by Martin Thomas
The Bush government is slowly and clumsily moving towards accepting that Iraq will slide into sectarian civil war, and relying on US airpower to bomb it into a result acceptable to the USA without too many US casualties.
Patrick Clawson, a Washington think-tankie close to the government, told Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker magazine: “We’re not planning to diminish the war. We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting — Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower... [It] may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win. As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we’re set to go... We’re in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq”.
So “liberation” by Bush and Blair means “a nasty and murderous civil war”, stretching for many years ahead.
The US government is under increasing pressure to do something that looks like troop withdrawal.
In mid-November different Iraqi factions met together at a conference in Cairo convened by the Arab League. Representatives from both the Shia/Kurdish Transitional Government and the Sunni-supremacist “resistance” agreed on a joint statement demanding a timetable for US withdrawal and upholding the legitimacy of “resistance” attacks on US forces.
On 27 November Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, the Iraqi Transitional Government’s National Security Adviser, said he was confident of getting a timetable for US withdrawal soon. The Crown Prince of Dubai, no anti-American zealot, has called for withdrawal.
According to the Beirut paper Al Hayat, the target date for US withdrawal — November 2007 — was suggested in Cairo by no less than Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq.
In Iraq, the ruling United Iraqi Alliance — a coalition mostly comprising Shia Islamist groups — needs some signs of movement by the USA in order to bolster its position for the Iraqi elections on 15 December. Its internal balance has been shifted by the full inclusion in the Alliance of Moqtada al-Sadr's ultra-Islamist faction, which in the last elections, in January this year, was half in and half out of the Alliance. Al-Sadr has organised large demonstrations for US withdrawal.
There are also pressures on the Bush administration from within the USA. On 17 November, congressman John Murtha put down a motion in the House of Representatives for the USA to start withdrawing troops immediately and get them all out within six months. Murtha is a conservative, pro-war politician. He voted for the US/UK invasion of Iraq. According to Hersh: “Murtha is know for his closeness to the four-stars... [His] message – you can consider it a message from a lot of generals on active duty today”.
Shortly afterwards the US Senate, Republican-controlled, voted 79 to 19 to ask for a timetable for US withdrawal starting in 2006.
In a poll in September, according to CNN, “Only 39 percent [in the USA] said the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. Sixty-three percent said they wanted to see some or all US troops withdrawn from that country”. More recent polls have a majority of Americans saying that Bush is dishonest, and only 29% regarding vice-president Dick Cheney as honest.
The Sunni-supremacist “resistance” is becoming more active, not less. The Iraqi army and police forces being built under US supervision are increasingly instruments of sectarian retaliation in the growing Sunni-Shia civil war.
The brutality, arrogance, and corruption of the US/UK occupation is incubating sectarian civil war and the rule of gangsterism. (In a recent interview in New Left Review, Baghdad-based journalist Patrick Cockburn gives a surreal example of the Americans’ ineptness. “You would have thought they would at least have got the stock exchange going again. But Washington sent in a 24 year old with strong family connections to the Republican Party. He forgot to renew the lease on the building for it, and there was no stock market for a year. After about six months, Iraqi stockbrokers were so fed up they sounded like Islamic militants...”)
The USA has already withdrawn troops from the southern cities of Najaf and Karbala, and plans more such pull-backs. Clawson’s scenario means the USA managing the mess by accepting a slide into civil war, pulling more US troops back into their bases or eventually out of Iraq, and propping up a Shia-Kurdish government by bombing areas of Sunni “resistance” strength.
It is not very plausible in its own terms. Even if the USA’s huge firepower can eventually beat enough Sunni Arabs into submission, it will only do that temporarily. And a recent poll found 82% of Iraqis in the mainly-Shia south hostile to the occupying troops: it is far from certain that withdrawing the troops from mainly-Shia cities will quell that hostility.
At present the new Iraqi labour movement can still operate, more or less, in the areas controlled by the Transitional Government. A slide into sectarian civil war will mean less and less restraint on the anti-democratic impulses of the Shia Islamists and Kurdish warlords who run the government — a tighter and tighter squeeze on the small margin of democratic space in which the labour movement operates.
The Iraqi labour movement needs our support in order to be able to create a democratic and secular force in Iraqi politics, capable of getting rid of the Americans without tipping the country into all-out civil war.