The war in Irak

A first balance sheet

By Juan Chingo and Aldo Santos


After 21 days, the fall of Baghdad was a watershed in the military campaign, leaving the capital in the hands of the invaders and accelerating the fall of other cities, such as Mosul and Tikrit. The capitulation of Tikrit –Hussein’s hometown and a stronghold of his inner circle- without a fight exposed the extent of Hussein’s debacle.
What are the reasons for such an abrupt denouement? Without doubt, the overwhelming military superiority of the imperialist coalition over the Iraqi army is the first major reason. The latter was furnished with obsolete equipment, which could hardly match the high tech weaponry of the Americans, because it could not modernize itself as a result of the sanctions imposed by the US, Britain and the UN throughout the 1990s after the first Gulf War.
In spite of this abysmal gap, once the coalition troops were forced into urban warfare in the streets of Baghdad –where their technological superiority would be reduced- they might have been expected to suffer heavy losses. This, on top of an international context set against the invasion, might have pushed Hussein in the direction of seeking a truce allowing the survival of his regime. But against those expectations harbored by the regime, Baghdad fell to the invaders with hardly any resistance.
This leads us to believe that there was some sort of negotiation between the American troops and the upper echelons of Iraq’s armed forces. What might have triggered the collapse was the capitulation of the main commanders of the Republican Guards, the Special Republican Guards and heads of the secret service. Although the quick demise of the demise might have been provoked by an overriding push of the enemy army, there are some clear signs leading us to assume that Baghdad was surrendered without fight, negotiated in exchange for money and guarantees for the main henchmen in the armed forces. The secure march of the imperialist troops past Karbala, the first defense ring around Baghdad; the seizure of the airport, which met no resistance; the unbelievable fact that not a single bridge providing access to the city was blown up, all these are clear signs pointing to a negotiated surrender. The contrast with the first weeks, when the resistance was being felt, dealing tactical blows against the coalition forces –by resorting to guerrilla warfare waged by local militiamen and the Fedayeen- and the sudden fall of Baghdad makes us think of a retreat all along the way.
In the end, this is the result of the corrupt and bourgeois nature of Saddam Hussein’s army, who kept the control through ceaseless purges and terror over the rank-and-file soldiers and the command echelons. The desertion of the Republican Guards –or even, as some intelligence reports say, the likely assassination of Hussein, his sons and his closest aides due to a conspiracy- shows that the upper echelons of the regime might have tried a bit of their own medicine in the face of the pressure and the blackmail exerted by the US army, which placed its bets to such outcome right from the start. The rottenness of the Bath party regime has been exposed in full light. Its authoritarian control over the country, on top of its inability to unify the whole nation in the face of the imperialist enemy as a result of the national oppressed against the Kurds and the social oppression of the Shiites, meant that it only relied on the control of a crony army for support, which lead it to an early grave. Those powerful social and political reasons are the key factors that paved the way for a quick, relatively easy, military victory of the imperialist coalition.


A non-consolidated victory


The debacle of the Iraqi state brought about a power vacuum. During the first few days, the United States turned a blind eye on the ongoing chaos in order to make the masses feel weary, while boosting the sense that an occupation was ‘needed’ to uphold ‘order’ at one and the same time. While the American troops gave looters a free hand to ransack hospitals and the archeological museum –whose artifacts will be sold in the West- they were busy guarding the Oil Department. After this first chaotic phase, they got down to restoring the hatred police force of the old regime, a move that might fuel distrust and spite among the masses towards it and the ‘liberators’.
But this is a just trifle for the US, which will be confronted with the complicated task of establishing a legitimate government. Iraq was born out of an arbitrary carve-up by British imperialism after the demise of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. There are nations such as the Kurds that are divided by artificial borders. In the territory of Iraq, several groups coexist one along the other: the Kurds in the north, the Shiites in the south and in major areas of Baghdad (where they make up the most impoverished and marginal quarters of society), and the Sunni minority. The ruling class was always recruited among the latter, including Hussein himself.
The debacle of the regime unleashed a fight for position of power, not only between all those groups, but also within each of them –the occupation of Mosul and Kirkuk by the Kurdish permeshgas and the assassination of pro-Western Shiite figures in the South being two cases in point. The American attempt at setting up a centralized government –a direct US administration first and a puppet transitional regime later- might be reversed by the Pandora box that has been opened now that Saddam is gone. The foundations for a new power in Iraq will be laid by the killings, the street fighting and the guerrilla warfare, rather than by the diplomatic rounds sponsored by the so-called Iraqi opposition.
Last but not least, for the American occupation to succeed in the long run, the masses should put up with it one way or another. So far, no matter how deep the hatred of Hussein might be, this has not been achieved, except for some token symptoms. Furthermore, the demonstration held against the appointment of a governor for the city of Mosul, which was brutally suppressed by the Marines, with a death toll of ten and dozens of injured protesters, is showing that the resentment of the population might grow as well. A drawn out occupation might fuel more protests like this one, sparking off a mass resistance.


Force, consensus and coercion


The doctrine of ‘preemptive war’ postulated by the US has had a promising debut. But it might also lead the hawks in the Bush administration to over-reliance in militarism. A journalist of the Spanish daily El País puts it this way: ‘A relatively easy victory, and with very low casualties of their own, might boost a tendency in Washington to regard war not only as an instrument of politics, in the sense that Clausewitz postulated it, but as a privileged instrument (…) We might be in for a situation, not of a diplomacy backed by force, but of force without diplomacy at all on the part of the hyperpower’ (April, 14 2003)
But history shows that the use of military force is not enough to uphold the world supremacy of a power, unless it goes hand in hand with pacts and agreements to wrestle some sort of consensus from other powers, via diplomacy, and through them, gain the acquiescence of the mass movement. That is why, right from the beginning, we said the belligerent course of the United States reflects a potential weakness in the long run, a symptom of its historical decline. The diplomatic defeat it suffered at the start of the conflict, when it failed to gain the endorsement of the United Nations, bears testimony to this.
After their tour de force in Iraq, the French strand of imperialism, although cautious, did not retreat from their fundamental positions. The leaders of France, Germany and Russia gathered at the Saint Petersburg summit, and demanded a place in the future administration of the country. China, regarded as a ‘strategic competitor’, has restarted its flights monitoring US spy planes over the South China Sea. Such move ended in the forced landing of a spy plane and fueled a great tension with the US right at the beginning of the Bush administration. In this way, the regime in Beijing is sending a message to the latter, meaning that it will seek to curtail its actions.
And the fundamental thing at stake here: the rejection of the masses of the world towards a war that was clearly perceived as an imperialist move is yet another constraint holding down American power. The very same swiftness with which the United States prevailed over Iraq has exposed the fact that this country posed no military threat, as the imperialist propaganda said. And the weapons of mass destruction are nowhere to be seen, which also adds up to the lack of legitimacy of the war.
That is why hawks like Robert Kagan are suggesting Bush to ‘resist the temptation of becoming a superpower’. They believe that an overtly puppet regime along the lines of Rumsfeld’s plans and his would-be viceroy Ahmed Chalabi (which has been out of Iraq for the past 45 years!) is the least convenient choice. Such move, they believe, would heap discredit for the ‘major success of the President’. He recommends that ‘the US should not pursue the division of Europe, let France do the work…the more the US punishes the German government the more we push an anxious and isolated Germany into the open arms of France’. And he warns that ‘As the military campaign fades out, there is tendency to downplay diplomacy (...) we should do exactly otherwise (…) the Bush administration needs to work even more hardly to justify the war. The US can win the hearts and minds of Europe, and even so across the Arab world, convincing the people, in hindsight, that the war was more just than they used to believe’. And he concludes ‘The ability of America to effectively give the lead in the future will by and large hinge upon how this war is understood and remembered throughout the world. That battle is just beginning, and if the administration is as clever on the diplomatic field as it is on the war front, it might win that as well.’ (Washington Post, April 9, 2003)
Should they take heed to such advice, we cannot rule out that America might try to get a delicate balance between keeping the belligerent move rolling, combining it with reactionary pacts in the Middle East and across the world. These would be backed by the threat of a deployment of troops –i.e., coercion. For example, at the same time that they were launching all sorts of aggressive accusations against Syria, which might herald future military actions, they are also starting to shape a pact for the Palestinian question that is predicated upon the promise of achieving a fictitious state around 2005. And this entails resorting to coercion, because they are demanding the Palestinian leadership to oust Arafat and make radicalized wings such as Hamas toe the line, seizing upon the favorable balance of forces achieved after the victory over Iraq.


The perspectives


Stabilizing Iraq is a top priority for the US, but in the medium turn, the course not clear yet. Amid a crippling world recession that is affecting the US in the first place, American imperialism blows hot and cold between going down the road that leads to further aggressions against Syria, or else try to heal the wounds with the other powers. The more ambitious its imperial agenda becomes, the stronger the likelihood of squandering its military victories, thus fueling increased instability and imperialist divisions, paving the way, in the end, for revolutionary developments.
For the Arab masses, and those in semicolonial countries, and also for the antiwar movement that sprung up across the world, especially in the imperialist countries, the victory of the US is a harsh setback. The antiwar protest will no doubt languish from now on, but the legacy of resentment in the Arab world and the anti-imperialist hatred that spread throughout the world will shape an even more radicalized vanguard. We need to draw the lessons to rejuvenate a truly proletarian internationalism, which should start demanding the withdrawal of all US and British troops out of Iraq and the Middle East, while getting ready to defeat the coming campaigns that the US government is planning now.