Is Uncle Sam about to get caught --
BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE?
an anti-state communist perspective on the war
As I write this, in early March 2003, the rulers of the United States are about to attack Iraq. If the prevalent guesses are correct, the American empire will rapidly defeat and destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime, seize Iraqi oil fields, and occupy major urban centers. This will probably be accomplished with an initially low number of US military casualties, and a very high number of deaths among Iraqi civilians and military personnel. The United States will attempt to cobble together a client regime analogous to that of Karzai’s in Afghanistan, and it will be at this point, the high-point of an apparently overwhelming and inexpensive US military victory, that a real, enduring defeat for the United States may begin.
Thirty years after the US defeat in Indochina, America’s main imperialist rival of the day, the Soviet Union, is no more; American companies have completely recolonized Vietnam; the United States is now unchallenged as the world’s dominant economic, military, and cultural power. With the possible exception of Israel, no other government on Earth is as promiscuous in the use of large-scale violence in the pursuit of its foreign policy goals. On the surface, it appears that the US. has gotten over its post-Vietnam hangover, that nothing keeps the rulers of the US from lashing out wherever they choose, and that we are seeing an example of this against former US asset Saddam Hussein. The conquest of Iraq is intended to be the first episode in a new period of unlimited aggressive global warfare by the United States. But the American empire is much more vulnerable, and American society itself more fragile, than either its friends or enemies think. A bloody, incoherent “victory” over Saddam Hussein may have the same devastating impact on the interests of the US ruling class as an outright military defeat.
One motivation behind the Bush Administrations’ launching of a major war is to get Bush re-elected in 2004 -- but that’s just the small tip of a very big iceberg. Bush wants to ape his father’s high popularity ratings after the episode of mass murder committed by the US and its allies in Iraq in January 1991. Bush needs to get the American public’s mind off the deepening economic crisis, the disappearance of several million jobs and an ever-increasing atmosphere of domestic US hardship. The people who own Bush will try to boost the US out of a major economic downturn with the massive increase in military spending that a big war and subsequent occupation will entail.
Bush also needs to divert attention from his failure to locate or kill Osama Bin Laden, to dismantle al Qaeda, capture or destroy its top leadership, or even account for the whereabouts of Mullah Omar. Afghanistan also propels Bush into a new war, because the Afghan campaign otherwise had the surface appearance of a quick cheap victory, with the Taliban collapsing more rapidly than American projections had forecast.
Bush’s response to the rapid taking of Kabul by the Northern Alliance is recounted this way in Bush At War, by Bob Woodward:
"(Bush) did not conceal his astonishment at the shift of events. “It’s a stunner, isn’t it?” Everyone agreed. It was almost too good to be true."
Bush and company seek a mechanical replay in Iraq; a military victory occurring close enough to the November 2004 elections to propel him into a second presidential term.
Iraq has never attacked the United States. No credible links have been established between Saddam Hussein and any significant anti-US. action. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, America’s second-most significant ally in the region, is the birthplace of al Qaeda, the organization behind the most devastating military blow inflicted on the United States since Pearl Harbor.
Fifteen out of nineteen of the September 11th hijackers were Saudis. Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been financed with funds from backers in Saudi Arabia. Even the wife of the Saudi Ambassador to Washington was found to have contributed money through a charitable organization to men associated with the Sept. 11th hijackers.
A classified intelligence briefing to the Pentagon’s defense advisory board from the Rand Corporation, a national security think-tank, leaked to the US news media, had this to say about America’s Saudi allies:
"The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader."
The report went on to describe the kingdom as “the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent,” that the US faces in the Middle East.
Faced with a pattern of major anti-US military action backed from elements in the Saudi elite, the perpetually bellicose US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denied that the intelligence assessment quoted above reflected US government policy. Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said that George Bush was “pleased with the kingdom’s contributions” to the war against al Qaeda. During a visit to Mexico in November 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed his desire to avoid a crisis in relations with “a country that has been a good friend."
Elements of the Saudi elite have backed and continue to back significant actions against the United States. In response the world's only superpower can't even offer something as benign and symbolic as a public formal diplomatic complaint.
The US has to keep the Saudi elite happy; for the time being, they have no choice in the matter. A UK Guardian article notes:
"Despite attempts to diversify US sources of oil, US dependence on Persian Gulf oil is projected to increase, not decrease, over the next 20 years. All major oil production increases in that period are also projected to take place in and around the (Persian) Gulf; Saudi Arabia is the only producer with enough spare capacity to keep the world market stable and prevent price “spikes” in times of crisis. Without Saudi Arabia, it is no exaggeration to say that the US economic motor could quickly conk out."
("Sleeping With the Enemy." Simon Tisdale, Guardian, Nov. 28, 2002)
Saudi Arabia supplies 17% of daily US oil needs. Saudi Arabia controls 25% of the world’s known oil reserves. In literal terms, Saudi Arabia has the world’s only superpower over a barrel. US oil dependency is a central part of the Bush Administrations’ need to placate to the House of Saud, and a real measure of American weakness in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is also the world’s largest purchaser of US weapons’ systems, and the source of roughly $600 billion in investments in the US economy.
In the near future, elements in the US elite aspire to be in a position to place major pressure on the Saudis, or even topple the House of Saud and replace them with more pliant allies. The US cannot do this now, but the conquest of Iraq is a stepping stone in this process, a move toward a permanent US military occupation of Western Asia, and a bid for direct US control of the world’s major oil supplies. “The road to the entire Middle East goes through Baghdad,” said a Bush Administration official in the Washington Post on August 8 of last year.
The journal Aspects of India's Economy notes:
“Direct control over West Asian oil resources -- the world’s richest and most cheaply accessible -- would allow the US to manipulate oil supplies and prices according to its strategic interests, and thereby consolidate American global supremacy against any future challenger." (1)
The future of the United States as the world’s leading economic and military power hinges on the US dollar continuing to be the currency used in international oil market transactions:
"Over the past year...the euro has started to challenge the dollars’ position as the international means of payment for oil. The dollars’ dominance of world trade, particularly the oil market, is all that permits the US Treasury to sustain the nation’s massive deficit, as it can print inflation-free money for global circulation. If the global demand for dollars falls, the value of the currency will fall with it, and speculators will shift their assets into euros or yen or even yuan, with the result that the US economy will begin to totter..."
("Out of the Wreckage." George Monbiot, Guardian, Feb. 25, '03)
The US economy is already tottering; the US is stuck in a recession, a crisis of overproduction where corporate profits and business investments have suffered their steepest declines since the 1930’s; “this is no normal business cycle, but the bursting of the biggest bubble in America’s history.” (Economist, Sept. 28, 2002) And now major oil suppliers like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Chavez regime in Venezuela have expressed interest in switching to the new European currency for their oil transactions. If they do this, others will follow, with significant negative effects on the dollar and on an already weakened US economy. The US must try at all costs to stop this from happening. This in part accounts for the frantic drive to conquer Iraq by the Bush Administration.
The United States imports roughly half its oil supply; this percentage is projected to increase in coming years. But Japan, Germany and France each import almost 100% of their oil. China is also projected to become more reliant on imported oil in coming years. American domination of the world’s oil supplies is key to keeping all these rivals in a weakened position. If the US controls Iraq, the US will control the world’s second-largest oil reserves. The US will use this to dominate the global oil market.
The conquest of Iraq is intended to maintain the position of the dollar in the international oil trade, provide a stepping stone for future US aggression against Iran and Saudi Arabia, keep major rivals (Europe, Japan and China) in a weakened position, and guarantee the US long-term access to oil as its domestic production declines and its consumption needs increase. This is central to understanding the humanitarian noises against US aggression made by major European Union nations. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld responded to this opposition by dismissing France and Germany as being insignificant on the world scene when compared to Poland and the Czech Republic. This doesn’t discredit the Bush Administration in the eyes of the American public, since most American citizens don’t own passports, can’t say what century the American Civil War took place in, think Mexico is in South America, and have trouble locating Canada on a map of the world. Rumsfeld’s comments make him sound like an All-American provincial dolt, but they underscore the fact that the war is about the United States keeping the European Union and America’s Asian economic rivals at bay.
The war with Iraq is the high point of a series of recent unilateral actions by the United States, most notably the refusal of the Bush Administration to cooperate with the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, but also its refusal to sign the treaty banning anti-personnel mines, its unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic missile treaty, and its stated intention of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons, including nukes for battlefield use against non-nuclear foes. Other examples abound. These actions, and an increasing penchant for resolving economic questions by military means are examples of the growing vulnerability of the United States as a world power. What they could once achieve by diplomacy or trade must now be acquired by force.
Significantly, the rulers of the US have also made it clear that they will not cooperate with the recently-established International Criminal Court, which is supposed to try future defendants accused of genocide and war crimes.
Another facet of the US’s weakness as a world power is it’s relationship with Israel. Israel is something like a Northern European social democracy with apartheid and nukes, but that still makes it a virtual 51st state when compared to Syria, or Egypt, or Iraq. Israel is the fulcrum of US strategic requirements in its part of the world. And because of this, Israel is also the love-object of a 50-year-long, out-of-control unrequited crush on the part of the US political elite. Among the US political class, some are pro-Israel, some are fanatically pro-Israel, and some are wildly, fanatically pro-Israel. This unanimity of thought extends from the right-wing establishment leftward to irrelevant feeble liberals of the Nation magazine stripe. The United States is at the beck and call of the Israeli ruling class, and will endlessly cater to Israel’s military and economic needs. This includes allowing Israel to spy on the US and attack the US militarily during time of war. All factions of the US political elite have made it clear that the US will also back any action the Zionist state takes against the original inhabitants of the territory it occupies, no matter how much this damages long-term US imperial interests in predominantly Arab and Muslim regions of the world.
For example, the constant expansion of Jewish settlements into territory supposedly conceded to a Palestinian authority is an American tax-dollar subsidized large-scale public housing program for Israel. This housing program is taking place during a major domestic housing crisis in the United States, where subsidized housing projects have suffered massive funding cuts or been closed down. The US buys social peace for Israeli society with this; poorer, dark-skinned Jews, who are near the bottom of the class hierarchy in Israeli society, are fronted off into the settlements, where they bear the brunt of anti-settler Palestinian guerrilla violence. This in turn drives these settlers to form part of the most recalcitrant and reactionary element of Israeli society. The constant expansion of the settlements over Arab lands would be impossible without the decades-long infusion of an average of three million US tax dollars per day into the ever-floundering Israeli economy.
The US is effectively a pawn of its client state in Jerusalem. This is a comically absurd situation; try to imagine the late 19th century British Empire being perpetually on its knees before the King of Nepal. In return for US sponsorship, Israel has carte blanche do whatever it wants to its Palestinian subjects and to anyone living within striking distance of the Israeli Air Force.
In the Middle East, America must do what Israel needs before America can do what America needs. The current rulers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt give the US the cover it needs to be the tool of its favorite client, and the US must keep all of them happy. Powerless to act against the Saudis for the time being, the US now uses Iraq as a punching bag to convince the rest of the world, especially Saudi Arabia, that the US isn’t a declining world power. Bush and Company cannot yet jeopardize their relationship with the House of Saud, but they would like to scare them back into line while plotting their next big move. They will do this with an extremely bloody US armaments industry trade show next door in Iraq, a sequel to Bush’s father’s unsuccessful reelection campaign of ‘91.
A weak power can attempt to hide its weakness by fighting and defeating a much weaker enemy. Iraq is ideal for this. Iraq was flattened by the 1991 war, and by the subsequent twelve years of widespread starvation, disease and economic ruin imposed by US-backed UN sanctions. In theory Iraq should provide Bush with a massacre that can get him re-elected a year and a half later, when the memory of easy victory will still be fresh in voters minds.
As the world’s only superpower, the United States cannot publicly threaten military action, and then back down if the pretext for action disappears. Once the threat is offered, it absolutely must be followed by force; the principle is identical to what’s found with a schoolyard bully or a jailhouse sexual predator. Anything short of a rapid conquest of Iraq will be universally perceived as a defeat for the United States.
The goal in the first Bush war against Saddam Hussein was limited to expelling the Iraqi Army from an extremely small territory, and consequently liberating the flow of $60 billion in Kuwaiti investments in the US banking system. Now the US must destroy the government of a large territory with an unruly and ethnically divided populace, occupy its main urban centers, and assume sole responsibility for keeping the country together until a puppet regime is securely in place. This will include spending many billions of dollars to rebuild at least some of the infrastructure that the US has spent the last twelve years assiduously destroying. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of a military occupation of Iraq at anywhere from $17 billion to $45 billion a year; that’s an up to $45 billion annual gift to US oil companies from US taxpayers. The war itself may run anywhere from $44 billion to $80 billion. (2)
Bush and company hope for a repeat of their quick war in Afghanistan, but the sequel won’t be as satisfying as the first version was. Reuters ran an article on Feb. 11th announcing that the Bush plan for a post-Saddam Iraq involves a projected US occupation of Iraq lasting two years. That’s twenty-four months’ worth of American service personnel trickling home in plastic bags during a major economic downturn.
It might prove to be a very, very long twenty-four months. In a document titled, “Planning for a Self-Inflicted Wound: US Policy to Reshape a Post-Saddam Iraq,” Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Pentagon-connected Washington DC think tank, offers a gloomy assessment of the prospects for successfully remaking Iraq in the image of shopping-mall-land, instead of a post-breakup Yugoslavia with camels:
"We may or may not be perceived as liberators...We may well face a much more hostile population than in Afghanistan. We badly need to consider the Lebanon model: Hero to enemy in less than a year. We also need to consider the Bosnia/Kosovo model where internal divisions leave no options other than stay and police or leave and watch civil conflict emerge...
"We cannot hope to get an Iraqi, regional, or world mandate to act as occupiers...if we act this way, we are certain to encounter massive problems...
"We must realize that one day after our forces enter any area, the world will hold us to blame for every bit of Iraqi suffering that follows, as well as for much of Saddam's legacy of economic mistakes and neglect...we cannot pass our problems on to a non-existent international community...We have to stay as long as it takes, or at least until we can hand a mission over to the Iraqis..."
Another work by Cordesman at CSIS gives more background for his prognosis. ‘Iraq’s Military Capabilities in 2002: A Dynamic Net Assessment,’ estimates that even after losing 40% of its forces in the 1991 war, as of July 2002 the Iraqi military still had at least 424,000 men in arms. Some estimates including reserve forces push the potential number of Iraqi combatants as high as 700,000. The United States is openly committed to decapitating the regime commanding this vast army. Even if the United States kills as many as 200,000 Iraqi troops, that still leaves at least a quarter of a million, and possibly as many as half a million individuals, who will be desperate, impoverished, and have little to lose in a shattered society after Saddam’s government has collapsed.
The United States will be able to wipe out Saddam’s Air Force, his tanks and other armored vehicles, his anti-aircraft sites and major artillery weapons. But cruise missiles and B-52 sorties will still leave several million assault rifles with billions of rounds of ammunition, and comparable quantities of heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortars, light artillery and ordnance to spare. There is no way that US forces will be able to locate, confiscate or destroy all those weapons. It adds up to a huge potential armory for the former conscripts of what was one of the largest armies on earth, the soldiers of a state that will no longer exist. They might not fight hard for Saddam, but that doesn’t mean that some of them won’t want to kill Americans. The Iraqis will be hungry. They will be angry, they will be armed to the teeth, and they will have all the good reason in the world to ambush the soldiers of an occupying army from a empire that has butchered one out of every twenty-three Iraqis, more than a million people, and most of them infants and small children, since Bush’s dads’ war in 1991.
Even if US forces take Baghdad without sustaining major casualties, the best scenario they can then hope for will be near total social collapse and large-scale banditry, a Kalashnikov and RPG-7 equipped crime wave bigger and badder than the one that hit Central America after the US victory there at the end of the 1980’s. Millions of people will need to be fed and housed. The rulers of the US aren’t doing such a great job of that with the poor and unemployed in America; will they be any better at it in a predominantly Arabic-speaking country on the other side of the globe? Maybe the US can buy off some of Saddam’s former soldiers by refraining from killing them, offering to feed them, and then slapping them into shape as the constabulary of a puppet regime. The resulting Mad-Max style police force will make the thuggish cops of the Palestinian Authority look like a comparative model of Quaker rectitude. America’s allies in Ankara won’t sit on their hands when things explode on their southern border, so the pacification of Kurdistan will be fobbed off on the obsequious Brits. The Special Air Service will be happy to eat shrapnel in a former UK colonial possession for a former governor of Texas. They will later return to the Sceptered Isle minus their limbs and lower jaws, forever proud of their sacrifice in the sublime cause of defending the UK’s status as a combination Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise and US air base off the coast of France.
The British can take on the sustained anti-bandit and anti-guerrilla fighting. Or Bush can try to unload it on the awe-inspiring Czech infantry, the vanguard of a burgher class that’s always eager to lick the shoes of the dominant power of the day. The Americans won’t want to do it, and that’s where the big problem for Uncle Sam begins.
In October 1983 in Beirut, one suicide driver in a truck carrying 300 kilos of explosives killed 241 US Marines and chased Ronald Reagan out of Lebanon. To get American minds off this embarrassment, Reagan immediately invaded Grenada, a tiny island ruled by a regime that was too busy self-destructing to offer resistance to American forces. Reagan’s successor George Bush invaded Panama, a very small country, with the very small goal of grabbing the very small former US asset General Noriega. The mission was a success, ending quickly with the massacre of a few thousand slum-dwellers and with Noriega safely tucked away in a Federal Prison. Bush also quickly accomplished a similar, very limited goal in expelling Saddam from another very small country. He did this in record time with extraordinarily favorable circumstances on his side; Bush waged war against a regional power already weakened by a ten-year long war, and Bush’s war was supported by numerous other governments providing military wherewithal and most of the financial backing for the attack. When Bush later invaded Somalia, US forces were unable to impose their version of order, they couldn’t locate and grab a local warlord as part of their plan for imposing order, and they ended up being humiliated in combat with the hostile locals. In the face of urban warfare similar to what the US may find when it occupies Iraq, the US ran away. Clinton oversaw this rout, as well as the later US intervention and rapid retreat from Kosovo. Vietnam is the shadow looming over all these engagements.
The lesson of Vietnam, the enduring impact of the Vietnam defeat on US foreign policy, is that the United States can no longer afford to fight a protracted ground war -- anywhere in the world. The political expense for American politicians is too high, and, more importantly, the impact on American society is potentially too destructive. The preferred post-Vietnam US method of warfare is to bankroll proxies like the Nicaraguan Contras, or Savimbi in Angola, or Saddam against Iran, or guys like Bin Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan. If the US military has to become more intimately involved, then vast quantities of high explosives are dumped on civilians from the safe distance of an aircraft carrier group. But the world’s only superpower can’t fight all its wars with the airborne equivalent of a drive-by shooting, or by always paying others to do their fighting for them. Somewhere and soon, the United States will have to engage in a major protracted war on the ground, with US forces taking on the brunt of the fighting. There is no technological escape from this dilemma.
We need to go back in time to see what the future might offer to an American occupation force in Iraq.
On July 14, 1958, the monarchy of Iraq was deposed in the “Free Officers” coup, led by Abdul Karim Qasim. The royal family were executed. Crowds took to the streets. A number of US businessmen staying at the Baghdad Hotel were killed. People took food from shops without paying, thinking that money would now be obsolete. Although Islamic influence remained strong, there were outbreaks of anti-clericalism, including public burnings of the Koran.
Peasants in the south of the country looted landlords’ property, burned down their homes and destroyed debt accounts and registers of land ownership. Fearing the spread of rebellion throughout the rest of the Middle East, the US sent 14,000 marines to Lebanon. Plans for a join US/UK invasion of Iraq went nowhere, because no reliable collaborators among the Iraqis could be found.
In another uprising in the town of Kirkuk in Iraqi Kurdistan the following year, 90 generals, landlords and capitalists were taken to a road, had ropes tied around their necks, and were dragged around behind cars until they were dead. From an early point in the capitalist modernization process, the working people of Iraq demonstrated a consistent propensity for mass violence against their oppressors.
The Ba’ath Party toppled Qasim and seized power for the first time in 1963. The Ba’athists suppressed demonstrations by running over protesters with tanks and by burying people alive. The Ba’athists also assassinated roughly 300 labor activists and members of the Moscow-Stalinist Iraqi Communist Party with the help of a hit-list provided by the CIA. This marked the beginning of the blood marriage between the United States government and the Ba’ath Party of Iraq.
After being overthrown, the Ba’athist seized power again in 1968. As in the case of Iran, oil wealth provided a basis for rapid industrialization of a predominantly rural nation. Land reform propelled the development of a fully capitalist economy. Iraqi society became more urbanized and secular, with increasing levels of literacy, access to medical care, and a higher percentage of people attending college than in most other Middle Eastern countries. The status of women improved markedly, especially when compared to places like Saudi Arabia. A more modern society meant more modern social conflicts. Strikes and rebellions by wage workers and impoverished peasants often tended to become explosive, and the Ba'athists response was always brutal. In Iraq a secular, rapidly modernizing police state with a national socialist ideology found itself up against intractable class conflicts like those generated by the modernization program of the monarchy in Iran next door.
The fate of the Shah’s regime must have given the butcher Saddam reason to pause. In spite of its grim end in the establishment of the Islamic republic, the 1979 Iranian revolution was one of the most significant revolutionary upheavals of the 20th century. In Iran, the world’s second-largest oil exporter, a government with a large modern military and a sophisticated police and intelligence apparatus was overthrown by a mass rebellion. The rebellion involved street demonstrations with millions of marchers, and culminated in a long-term general strike and an armed insurrection. The revolt against the Shah also saw a widespread organization of wage workers’ struggles in the form of ‘shoras,’ which translates as ‘committee’ or ‘council;’ the word means something akin to soviet. The councils movement was particularly powerful among oil industry workers:
"We do not mean to contribute to a myth of 'Iranian workers councils'...autonomous proletarian interests...remained subordinated to the limited and even reactionary elements of the Iranian revolt. Nevertheless they bear witness to an important phenomenon. In Iran, a highly religious Islamic country, the working class played a key role in a popular movement of rebellion with a six-month general strike, organized in the absence of trade unions and powerful left parties, with a continuously high level of mass action and mass organization. This was made possible, as in revolutionary movements in more capitalistically developed countries, by the formation of workers' committees and councils, confirming again that this is a 'natural' organizational form for workers' struggles.
"...It is an experience which will gain new meaning when the struggle resumes on a new, more truly revolutionary basis."
(Babak Varamini, "The Shah is Dead: Long Live the Caliph," Root and Branch #8, 1980. Root and Branch was a council communist magazine produced in the Boston, Massachusetts area.)
With the excuse provided by a border dispute, and fear of an Islamic revolution spreading throughout the Persian Gulf, Saddam, now the undisputed ruler of Iraq, launched a war with Iran in September 1980. The first Gulf War lasted more than eight years, killing more than a million people. It was the longest major war of the 20th century.
The Iran-Iraq war also saw the biggest, longest and most violent anti-war movement anywhere in the world since the Russian Revolution and the wave of insurrections that ended World War One; violent strikes, mass fraternization between soldiers of the contending armies, mass desertion, widespread killings of officers and regime functionaries, and armed mutinies. The unrest occurred in both countries, but it appears to have been more widespread in Iraq. By 1983, Iraqi commanders were attacking Iraqi troops suspected of fraternizing with or failing to fight Iranian troops with artillery barrages, air strikes and ground-to-ground missile attacks. Kurdish nationalist peshmergas (guerrillas) served as military police for Saddam, seizing deserters and turning them over to Saddam loyalists for execution. Saddam’s generals launched numerous air strikes against battalion-sized concentrations of armed deserters in the marshland region near the Iranian border. Armed deserters retaliated by ambushing loyal troops and blowing up ammunition depots. Saddam’s poison gas attack against the town of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1988 appears to have been motivated by the presence of large numbers of Iraqi Army deserters in the town. The deaths of thousands in Halabja was followed by the looting of the dead and injured by Kurdish nationalist peshmergas.
The US backed Saddam in the war against Iran. One month after the Halabja massacre US forces attacked an Iranian frigate in the Persian Gulf. The Reagan Administration provided “crop-spraying” helicopters for use in chemical warfare attacks, and approved sales by Dow Chemical of components for chemical weapons. The US attacked two Iranian oil platforms in the Gulf, killing around 200 people, and even shot down an Iranian passenger jet, killing almost 300 civilians. In an article in the New York Times (August 18, 2002) former US Defense Intelligence Agency officers discussed US preparation of detailed battle planning for Saddam’s forces:
"The Pentagon 'wasn't so horrified by Iraq's use of gas," said one veteran of the program. 'It was just another way of killing people -- whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn't make any difference.' " (3)
Uncle Sam was up to his eyeballs in Saddam's chemical and biological warfare program:
"A US Senate inquiry in 1995 accidentally revealed that during the Iran-Iraq war the US had sent Iraq samples of all the strains of germs used by the latter to make biological weapons. The strains were sent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (sic!) and the American Type Culture Collection to the same sites in Iraq that UN inspectors later determined were part of Iraq's biological weapons program."
(Times of India, Oct. 2, 2002) (4)
After the war with Iran, in the summer of 1990, before Saddam moved to annex Kuwait, he’d consulted with the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, and Glaspie gave Saddam the apparent go-ahead. But the potential damage to Kuwaiti investments in US banks meant that America’s ally against Iran was suddenly transformed into what President Bush frantically described at the time as “another Hitler.” Concerns about Saddam’s spotty human rights record became audible from US journalists and elected officials at this point.
The second Gulf war in January 1991, with the US and its allies driving Saddam out of Kuwait, resulted in 131 deaths among the US and allied forces. Roughly 250,000 Iraqi were killed, and the civilian infrastructure of the country was completely devastated by the allies bombing and cruise missile campaigns.
As the first phase of the older Bush’s massacre of the Iraqis ended an uprising began in Basra, in the south, near Kuwait, with rebels using a tank to shell a huge Stalinesque portrait of Saddam. Soon the revolt became general throughout Iraq. All the tendencies toward large-scale armed revolt that had broken out during the war with Iran came into full force nationwide in the days after the defeat.
In Hawlir in Iraqi Kurdistan the revolt began when a woman who was enraged at the murder of her son by a cop disarmed the cop, killed him with his own weapon, then headed to a police station to kill more cops, followed by a snowballing crowd of angry people. In Sulliemania, a center of the movement, students took to the streets. Some were killed by the secret police, and a bloody fight commenced, ending on March 9th with insurgents overrunning the secret police headquarters and killing 800 of Saddam’s security forces. Fifty shoras formed all over the city. Throughout Iraqi Kurdistan, police stations, government buildings, Ba’ath Party headquarters, and army bases were overrun, wrecked and burned. More than in the south, in Kurdistan a perspective for a far-going revolutionary transformation of society was clearly present, as can be seen by the egalitarian slogans of the rebels; “Make the shoras your base for long term struggle!” “Class consciousness is the arm of liberation!” “Victory to the popular workers uprising!” “Down with capitalism, long live socialism!” (5)
With the general arming of the working populace, the rapid violent destruction of the regime’s functionaries and the symbols of its power, and the replacement of the state by the shoras, the revolt in Kurdistan appears to have been a real proletarian revolution, the beginning of a profound overturning of the old order. With time, the revolt might even have spread to Iran. But by March, after the service provided to Saddam by the US and UK air forces in the massacre of deserters on the Basra road, the uprising in the south was put down by Saddam’s Republican Guard units. They then turned their attention to Kurdistan. As the revolt in the north became isolated, Kurdish nationalists gained the upper hand against the shoras movement. Better armed and better organized than the rebellious working people, the peshmergas succeeded in encouraging large numbers of people to flee across the border to Turkey. The revolution collapsed, and Saddam remained in power.
As it was with the truce between Versailles and the Prussians at the time of the Paris Commune, and the blockade of the Republican-held zone during the Spanish Civil War, the revolution in Iraq had compelled a unanimity of interests to rapidly assert itself among all the otherwise contending government forces. The US, the UK, the Kurdish nationalists and Saddam had, in effect, acted together to crush the uprising and save Saddam’s regime.
The United States and the UK performed a spectacular counter-insurgency service for their apparent foe Saddam, with American and British fighter pilots immolating roughly three infantry divisions of Iraqi army deserters fleeing Kuwait on the road to Basra. US pilots gleefully referred to this war crime of massacring forces no longer opposing them as a “duck shoot.’ This carpet bombing of Iraqi Army deserters wiped out men who could have provided the extra muscle to overwhelm Saddam’s Republican Guards and finish off his regime.
From the perspective of the worlds’ major democracies, “another Hitler” is always better than another working class revolution, especially one taking off in one of the world’s major oil producing regions, where an insurgent power could do real, enduring damage to the global capitalist system.
Now, twelve years later, the rulers of the United States and their gurkhas in Whitehall are assuming that their 1991 war, the UN-backed starvation blockade, and the resulting 1.2 to 1.5 million deaths will have beaten all resistance out of the vast majority of the populace in Iraq. The United States, the UK, and their former allies in the Ba’ath Party have perpetrated a phenomenal amount of death and suffering against wage earners and poor peasants in Iraq; this is only a subset of the violence committed by the United States and its allies all over the world, including in the US itself, and of the ever-more murderous essence of commodity relations in their dictatorship over life on earth today. But a violent social order repeatedly gives rise to a violent proletarian response, and nowhere has this been more true than in Iraq. Our rulers may be galloping into an abattoir; the mayhem American democracy has inflicted on millions of people may now be about to spill all over Uncle Sam’s lap.
Maybe the US will take Baghdad without a fight. Or maybe the new war will only take six months, and five thousand US dead. After the initial conquest, the entire population of Iraq, including possibly one million refugees and several hundred thousand unemployed former soldiers, may place all the blame for their suffering on Saddam. Maybe the Iraqis will forget about all those dead babies. They’ll forget about the military and intelligence aid the US gave Saddam, and the two conventional wars the United States waged against the populace Saddam brutalized. They’ll forget about the systematic destruction of water pumping and sewage treatment facilities and the resulting epidemics of dysentery, typhoid and cholera; the destruction of the Amiriya air-raid shelter in Western Baghdad, filled with children and their mothers; they’ll forgive the blockade against food and medical supplies and the hundred-thousand-plus cancer deaths produced by the spent radioactive munitions the US used against Iraqis in Bush’s fathers’ war. Maybe the survivors of a twelve year long campaign of mass murder committed by the United States will be nice and play the game George’s way. Maybe they just won’t feel up to shooting, killing and maiming American soldiers.
Or maybe they will. To compound the tragedy, the Americans who will be killed and wounded will mostly be the conscripts of the poverty draft, instead of Norman Schwarzkopf, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, and the adult males of the Bush family.
In the late 1970’s, when President Jimmy Carter began funneling weapons and money to men like Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski gloated that the Carter Administration would soon deliver the Russians into their own version of the Vietnam war in Afghanistan. Maybe the US is in turn about to get its own Afghan war in Iraq; a long slow bleeding wound that can have a catastrophic impact on the world power waging it.
Iraqis who kill Americans after the fall of Saddam won’t have to defeat the American military, or even fight for a politically coherent objective. All they have to do is create a steady stream of dead Americans. They only have to inflict enough damage on the occupiers to make it clear to the world that the US hasn’t prevailed in Iraq. This can be conceptualized as a form of obscene primitive math; X equals the number of American soldiers getting killed and wounded every month in Iraq, times Y as the number of months that Americans occupy Iraq, factoring out to Z: the point at which an inconclusive long-running war can trigger civil unrest in the United States.
Nothing brings the internal weaknesses of a society to the surface like an unsuccessful war. A long-term bloody occupation of Iraq could bring this home with a vengeance to the ever-more repressive, impoverished, incarcerated, overworked, underpaid, United States domestic front. The home front has never been more potentially volatile. Under the right circumstances even the quiescent US wage earning class may reach its breaking point, and violently shear away from the patriotic consensus. If a big war goes badly for the US, it could mark the beginning of the end for bigger things than the government of Saddam Hussein. (6)
Maybe all of what I’ve written here is a mistake, an exercise in wishful thinking. Maybe the US is going to have a quick cheap victory in Iraq. Maybe the US will only suffer four or five hundred military personnel killed in combat and accidents. Maybe the US media apparatus will do an adequate job of sweeping anything else under the rug, the way they have with one hundred thousand-plus US veterans affected by Gulf War Syndrome, the post-combat domestic victims of Bush’s fathers’ war. Maybe the enormous expense of the war will be covered by a looting of Iraq’s 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves during the period of US “trusteeship.” Maybe the war will be a stepping stone to successful moves against the Mullahs in Iran and the Saudis. Maybe the only people who will pay will be Iraqis.
But it’s much more likely that major problems will begin for the American empire soon after the downfall of Saddam, during the post-war occupation, when the US finds itself alone in the mess it has created, within a larger context of spreading global chaos that is also a US creation. A bloody two-year long “low-intensity” conflict is likely -- like what the Israelis get with the Palestinians, but on a much larger scale, the humiliation experienced by US Army Rangers in Mogadishu magnified many times over. A large-scale popular uprising isn’t impossible, either. At that point, the rulers of the US will be forced to chose between running away again, like they did in Lebanon, and Somalia, and Kosovo -- or condemning US troops to be bled white in a conflict they can’t win.
And that’s not even beginning to imagine what can go wrong for the owners of America if they get the US into a second or third major ground war in another part of the world while still attempting to impose their version of order in Iraq.
(1) “The Torment of Iraq.” Aspects of India’s Economy, Nos. 33 & 34, December 2002. Available on-line, at: http://www.rupe-india.org/34/torment.html
(2) “Military Solution to an Economic Crisis.” Aspects of India’s Economy, op. cit.
(3) “The Iran-Iraq War: Serving American Interests.” Aspects of India’s Economy, op. cit.
(4) Aspects of India’s Economy, op. cit.
(5) The Kurdish Uprising and Kurdistan’s Nationalist Shop Front and its Negotiations With the Baathist/Fascist Regime. Available on-line, at: http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/blob_kurds.html
(6) Mass insubordination by enlisted people can play a central role in the defeat of a protracted war or occupation. For an example of how this developed during the US war in Vietnam, see, “Harass the Brass: Some Notes Toward the Subversion of the US Armed Forces,” at: http://infoshop.org/myep/love3.html