Iraq elections offer no road out of quagmire for U.S. Rulers

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by Gerry Foley

 

Although the White House proclaims its determination to go through with the Iraqi elections scheduled for the end of January at any cost, it seems clear already that these elections will not achieve the objective for which they were designed. They will not produce a stable neocolonial government in Iraq able to serve its imperial master effectively. They will more than likely even create new problems for the U.S. occupation.

 

In fact, it seems that the U.S. government is pushing through these elections only in an attempt to hold onto the most important ally it has in Iraq, the

conservative Shiite clergy, represented by Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. That reality alone is an indication of the dilemma the U.S. is in.

 

The government that emerges from the elections will almost certainly be dominated by the Shiite religious parties, among which Iranian clericalists have had a considerable influence. It is an open question what pressures this coalition of parties and groups will respond to once it holds governmental power.

 

Along with possible Iranian influences, there is the radical, anti-American faction led by the young cleric, Moqtada Al Sadr, who is sitting out the

elections. But Al Sadr apparently continues to have a strong following, in particular among the poor Shiites in the vast Baghdad slum of Sadr City, and he has shown in the past that he can put serious pressure on the more conservative clerics.

 

The Shiite clerical conservatives have maintained an uneasy collaboration with the U.S. occupation in return for the promise that they will dominate the

future government. The U.S. occupation has offered them an opportunity, since although their sect represents at least 60 percent of the population, it has been suppressed by all Iraqi governments since independence, in particular by Saddam.

 

However, Sunni Arabs are the dominant population in Baghdad and the central part of the country and they are not likely to accept a government based on the

Shiite religious parties. Both the U.S. government and its local allies fear that the expected low Sunni vote in the elections will compromise any government that emerges from them.

 

The prospects for Sunni participation took another blow in the run-up to the election when the major Sunni party withdrew its candidates.

 

Increasing alienation of the Sunni population will worsen the security situation in the country, which most Iraqis, even those who do not support the armed

resistance, blame on the U.S. occupation. And a government of the conservative Shiite clerics, ruling under the umbrella of the occupation, may rapidly lose its credibility, even among the religious Shiites themselves.

 

The strongest allies of the U.S. occupation are the leaders of the Kurdish nationalist parties, which have been attacked ruthlessly by Islamist resistance

groups. The Kurds, who represent about a fifth of the population of Iraq, were subjected to genocide by the Saddam Hussein regime and came to look on an alliance with the U.S. as their only hope of survival. However, their  experience has taught them that they cannot trust the U.S. rulers, and their real aspiration is independence.

 

The web site of the Arab nationalist TV channel Al Jazeera reported on Dec. 23 that Kurdish representatives had presented a petition to the United

Nations the day before signed by 1.7 million Iraqi Kurds demanding independence. Among other things, the preamble to the petition said: "The Kurds under international protection have been exercising de facto

independence in South Kurdistan [northern Iraq] for the last 13 years and they do not wish to be controlled by an Arab-dominated Iraq."

 

It is significant that the document used the term "South Kurdistan." That means that the authors are maintaining a conception of Kurdistan as a whole, which includes parts of Turkey, Iran, and Syria. The rulers of those countries are opposed to seeing any part of Kurdistan independent for fear of encouraging

Kurdish separatism in their own backyards.

 

For that reason, the U.S. government is not going to accept anything that looks like an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. But since the real objective

of the Iraqi Kurds is independence, the occupiers are going to find them a very uncertain ally in their projects for Iraq as a whole.

 

Resistance heats up in Mosul

 

Recently, the hottest spot of the resistance has been in Mosul, the third largest city in Iraq—a tripwire of conflict between Arabs and Kurds. It was historically

a predominately Kurdish city, but Saddam Hussein tried to Arabize it. Neighboring areas are dominated by Arab tribes that have connections with the Arab tribes in the Falluja region.

 

So, Mosul was the logical place for the resistance fighters driven from Falluja to retreat. When the resistance went on the offensive in the city during the Falluja siege, the local U.S.-sponsored,  predominately Arab, police force collapsed, and the Kurdish nationalist militias came out to face the resistance forces, raising the threat of an inter-ethnic war.

 

Clearly, if the U.S. forces appeared to be siding with Kurdish nationalists in a war against Arabs, the U.S. rulers and their allies could face still stronger

resistance from the Arab population, which makes up 80 percent or more of the population of the country.

 

Various U.S. administrations have abundantly demonstrated in the past that they have no intention of paying any political price in the region to support

the aspirations of the Kurds.

 

The single greatest loss the U.S. has suffered since its invasion of Iraq was inflicted by a suicide bombing in Mosul on Dec. 21, in which 14 U.S. soldiers

and four employees of the Halliburton Company died.  Four Iraqi security personal also died in the blast.  The attack was apparently carried out by Islamists in the orbit of Al Qaida, who, while typically well trained and devoted, are not representative of the resistance. Yet the U.S. losses illustrated some

fundamental weaknesses of the occupation.

 

The occupation of Iraq is the first war waged by a largely privatized military machine. Since the support services are mostly contracted out, it is much more difficult for the military security forces to keep track of those involved, who are hired because they can be paid less than U.S. civilians or military.

 

The bombing made it clear that despite extensive security checks, the resistance has been able to infiltrate its people right into the most vulnerable

parts of the U.S. deployment. In order to achieve this, it would need very widespread support among the Iraqi population, which it obviously has. Thus, the U.S. and its local allies are navigating in a sea of hostility, and it is inevitable that their defenses are going to spring leaks.

 

The Kurdish leaders have warned against holding elections now. Although they do not want to be part of Iraq, they know the country well. An article in the

Dec. 21 issue of the Christian Science Monitor quoted Sadi Ahmed Pire, the head of security in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in Mosul, who described the occupiers’ dilemma as follows: "The point of strength of the terrorist is information. … They have exact information. They have people in every office, every department—police, Iraqi National Guard, Health Ministry, education, electricity, and municipality.  And the people cooperate with them—sometimes willingly, sometimes not."

 

Private contractor pulls out

 

The first U.S. contractor to pull out of Iraq because of the threat of the resistance withdrew after the Mosul bombing, citing the prohibitive costs of

security. In fact, it is estimated that there are more than 80,000 security guards in Iraq, mostly hired by U.S. institutions and companies. That is more than

half the total number of U.S. military personnel.

 

Reportedly, U.S. security companies have expanded their recruitment in the impoverished countries of Central America. Of course, in an increasingly

poverty-stricken world, they can find men desperate for money.

 

Such hirelings are likely to be ruthless, all right.  In fact, they will almost certainly despise and fear the local population, whose hostility they will feel, and thereby increase the hatred of Iraqis to the occupation and its allies—although that does not mean that they will refuse bribes from the resistance. The U.S. capitalists have the problem that their system is built on individual greed, which can also undermines their larger economic and political projects.

 

The private security forces are apt to be much less disciplined than troops. But they are also not likely to take any more risks than absolutely necessary, which will tend to make them unreliable and ineffective as a security force. And the failures of these mercenary security forces will probably result in increased U.S. military casualties.

 

The U.S. occupiers intended the destruction of Falluja to be an object lesson to the resistance. However, although the U.S. military has destroyed the city, it

still has to fight battles in the deserted and ruined urban landscape.

 

When it allows the inhabitants to return to Falluja, the occupiers have designed a police state for them.  All cars are to be banned from the city. All males of

military age will have to wear identity badges that enable the authorities to identify them by means of scanning devices. It is hard to imagine that normal

life can be resumed under such conditions.

 

But whatever means the occupiers resort to in order to maintain their control of Falluja, this is only one small city, and they can hardly contemplate using such

methods in all the other hot spots of Iraq—and there are more and more of them. Even the U.S. government acknowledges that there are not likely to be any fewer points of resistance after the elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

*This article first appeared in the January 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper.

Socialist Action News

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