Joachim Guilliard / Junge Welt – 2008-01-07 23:01:54
BERLIN (January 6, 2008) — The financing of US president George W. Bush’s wars is now just about accomplished for 2008. By a large majority, briefly before Dec. 25 the House of Representatives and Senate granted an additional $70 billion for the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. A large number of Democrats again voted for continuing the funding. What made it easier for this bill to pass was that in the US there was a changed perception of the war in occupied Iraq.
Reports of a decrease of violence in Iraq allowed the topic to disappear from the headlines during the past few months. The US government obviously succeeded in selling the reinforcement of combat troops begun last January as a success. According to the Pentagon, the number of attacks decreased by 62 percent in comparison to last March. US troop losses similarly sank.
The decrease of violence is significant, however, only in comparison to the first half of 2007. At that time what was called “the Surge” led to an overall increase of US troop strength and expansion of military operations. In turn, the increased operations led to an increase in the number of victims among the Iraqis as well as the number of US soldiers killed, so that both climbed to record heights. The same applies to the number of Iraqi prisoners and refugees.
Altogether 2007 became by far the deadliest year of the occupation. The relative calming in the autumn is essentially the result of the US Army’s canceling large offensives. The military analysis organization GlobalSecurity reports only one major operation since the middle of July.
What also had an impact on the media was that two weeks before the votes in Congress, bus convoys with refugees returning from Syria arrived in Baghdad. The U.N.-Refugee Organization found it necessary to contradict the rosy view Washington presented. According to its estimate, security is far from adequate in Iraq.
As the questioning of those who returned home showed, the refugees returned not because conditions had improved inside Iraq, but usually because their visa for the country where they had been staying had run out or they had exhausted their finances. Some were also lured by the $800 pocket money that the Iraqi government promised to give to those who came home.
Also from the point of view of the Iraqis who remained in the country, nothing improved. On the contrary, inquiries of BBC and ABC news in September indicated that 70 percent of those polled said that in the course of the troop increase, security continued to worsen, as did the conditions for political dialogue, and the speed of reconstruction and economic development. Newer studies made in November confirm this view.
Iraqis Blame Occupation
The overwhelming majority of Iraqis holds the occupation troops primarily responsible for the violence in the country and accordingly demands the troops’ immediate departure. (Washington Post, Dec. 19)
In the middle of December the British Army held a celebration in Basra as it transferred control of the southern Iraqi province to Iraqi authorities. This too was sold as a success of the British-American occupation policies. Actually, the British had already withdrawn completely from Basra in September to their base at the airport, far outside of the city, their last base in the country.
Months before, the British had already vacated their bases in the other three provinces they originally occupied. Officially the withdrawal was explained with the cover story that the Iraqi army was ready now to take over local security. Numerous statements by British officers, however, clearly show that the situation had simply become untenable.
“Ninety percent of the violence down here is all against us,” a British officer told the Los Angeles Times (April 19). “You put more people on the ground, you are creating more targets.”
The Western media tried to make it appear that the Iraqi army took control in the South. This was false. The local parties that dominated the region took over.
For example, 1,200 British soldiers faced continuous bombardment as they stayed in the Amarah barracks. The Mehdi Army of the prominent cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took over these barracks immediately after the British left. The inhabitants of Amarah celebrated extensively, calling themselves the “first Iraqi city to throw out the occupiers.”
Later there were battles between the police—which consist mainly of members of the militias of the radical Shiite government party SIIC (formerly SCIRI)—and the followers of al-Sadr, whose movement makes up the provincial government. The conflict was defused by the intervention of high-ranking Iraqi personalities.
“At the end it was an Iraqi solution,” said Lt. Col. Richard Nixon Eckersall, commander at that time of a unit stationed there. Since that time the province has been relatively calm.
In Basra the situation was no better. British Labor and Liberal Democratic Party members of Parliament from the defense committee, who were in Iraq during July 2007, reported that for the British soldiers, nighttime patrols in the oil metropolis had become “suicide missions.” The population saw these troops as the main problem, and not, as the British government had claimed, as their protectors. (The Guardian, July 25)
Ninety percent of all attacks in Basra were directed against British units, and those carrying out the attacks would often come from the ranks of the “patriotic youth.” Instead of fighting on, the British Army command struck a deal with the parties that control the second largest Iraqi city: in exchange for a guarantee they would no longer be attacked, the British promised to stay outside Basra.
Peace without Occupiers
Through the media you get a picture that the consequence of this deal was anarchy and arbitrary violence. As ever, the media emphasized—as if they were again justifying an intervention—attacks by radical Islamic forces on women. The fate of women in the South had never been reported in the media as long as occupation troops were the ones abusing or killing these women.
In reality, after the departure of the British, the situation in Basra immediately became substantially calmer, as officials and citizens of the city told the Reuters press agency (Oct. 1). Political murders still occurred, but much less frequently than at any time since the invasion in 2003. Meanwhile families are again walking on the banks of Shatt al-Arab, even in the evening, which during the past four years had been inconceivable.
Not only in the South, but in the regions where the US was the main occupying force, similar conditions hold, although there is almost no reporting from these regions independent of the US military or critical of it, as there is in the British press. The true situation could still be deduced, however, because fighting calmed down immediately in those areas from which US troops withdrew.
US plans to divide Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish areas have little support among the Iraqi population. On the other hand, these partial retreats of the occupation forces often result in establishing independent areas that are controlled by different types of local forces, and could lead to the danger that these areas decay into individual spheres of influence—sort of local fiefdoms—as in Afghanistan.
The unification of the Iraqi national resistance made enormous progress in the course of the year. As long as the US occupation forces are present and capable of launching an attack on concentrations of guerrillas, however, the resistance alliances cannot enter population centers to resolve political problems involving the local groupings. Ever more urgently therefore, what is needed is the complete and systematic withdrawal of all occupation troops, accompanied by negotiations with the resistance and all other relevant forces inside Iraq.
Published in the Berlin daily newspaper Junge Welt, Dec. 27, 2007. Translated from German by John Catalinotto.
Joachim Guilliard is a key organizer of the German Iraq Coordination and writes frequently on the occupation of Iraq.
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