by Gerry Foley / December 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper
In the run-up to the first Iraqi parliamentary elections under the U.S.-led occupation, scheduled for Dec. 15, the political position of the occupiers has been severely weakened. But at the same time increasing violence between Sunni and Shiite forces threatens to drive wedges among Iraqis that could favor the establishment of a repressive neocolonial regime, but one that probably could not be stabilized.
Facing a disastrous drop in its approval ratings in public opinion polls, the Bush administration has been making more and more promises to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in the coming year.
A Harris Poll published in the Oct. 25 Wall Street Journal showed 53 percent of Americans thinking that the Iraq war was a mistake. A Gallup poll published in mid-November showed that 53 percent of Americans favored withdrawing U.S. troops within a year and 19 percent favored immediate withdrawal. Only 7 percent favored sending more troops.
The Washington dovecotes were rattled by an emotional call by right-wing Democratic Party congressman John Murtha calling for withdrawing U.S. forces ). Murtha, a decorated former Marine, is known to have close relations with military leaders. Some commentators draw the conclusion from this that he reflected the view of a section of the military that had become
convinced that the Iraqi resistance could not be defeated.
The rising public sentiment against the war so heated the earth under the feet of U.S. politicians that the normally sleepy U.S. Congress erupted in violent polemics. Bush’s supporters tried to show that the Democratic critics of the war were just opportunists
who, while they really supported the war, were just trying to take political advantage of its
The Bush backers scored some points. But discrediting the Democrats could not relieve the pressure of rising antiwar sentiment that bears on all the politicians. At the same time, the U.S. forces’ crimes against Iraqi civilians and prisoners held in the name of the “war against terrorism” have been becoming more and more of an international scandal.
An Italian TV documentary, “Falluja: The Hidden Massacre,” showed U.S. forces using white phosphorous in the assault on Falluja in November 2004. This is an atrocious weapon that literally melts the flesh off those it hits, and its burning cannot be put out by water. One of the most horrific photos from the Vietnam War, one that fueled worldwide outrage at the time, was of children who had been hit and horribly mutilated by white phosphorous.
The U.S. military initially denied that it had used white phosphorous in Falluja and then, in the face of pictures shown by the Italian journalists that proved that it was used, they claimed that it was employed only for illumination and to create smoke screens.
On the Pacifica Radio program “Democracy Now” Nov. 17, a presenter of the program asked one of the Italian producers of the documentary, Maurizio Torrealba, about the Pentagon’s claims: He said: “The Pentagon said that they used white phosphorus as a weapon, but not on civilians. And unfortunately, we got really hundreds of pictures of people that seemed to be
killed by white phosphorus.”
The question of the use of torture against Iraqis held by U.S. forces is also becoming more and more of a hot potato for the Bush administration.
In a special report in its Nov. 17 issue, The New York Review of Books reported: “When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April 2004, senior officials in the Bush administration claimed that severe prisoner abuse was committed only by a few rogue, poorly trained reserve personnel at a single facility in Iraq.
“But since then, hundreds of other cases of abuse from Iraq and Afghanistan have come to light, described in US government documents, reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross, media reports, legal documents filed by detainees, and from detainee accounts provided to human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch.”
The New York Review of Books began its extensive article with an account by three soldiers who had served in Falluja. “Residents of Fallujah called them ‘the Murderous Maniacs’ because of how they treated Iraqis in detention. They were soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, stationed at Forward
Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury) in Iraq. The soldiers considered this name a badge of honor.
“One officer and two noncommissioned officers (NCOs) of the 82nd Airborne who witnessed abuse, speaking on condition of anonymity, described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003–2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief [sic!].”
The New Yorker has also published articles on torture by U.S. forces. On “Democracy Now” on Nov. 11, the author of one, Jane Mayer, described the case of one detainee, Manadel al-Jamadi, apparently tortured to death by CIA interrogators:
“He was captured by Navy Seals in his house in Baghdad. He was a suspect in blowing up a number of things, including the Red Cross headquarters, so we’re not talking about a boy scout here, but he was captured in a fight and turned over to the CIA. And when he walked into Abu Ghraib prison on Nov. 4, 2003, he was walking and talking, and 45 minutes later he
“None of us really know exactly what’s happening behind those doors, where people are being
interrogated in secret locations by unnamed people.” Behind another door is the maintenance of secret prisons by the CIA, where the detainees cannot be seen by the International Red Cross, human rights organizations, or lawyers. This door was opened a
crack by the Washington Post of Nov. 2, which reported the existence of such prisons scattered around the world. Some of them were said to be in former Soviet bloc countries.
Human rights organizations have pointed fingers at Poland and Romania in particular as hosts of such prisons, which the local officials swear never existed. The government of the Czech Republic has admitted that the U.S. asked it to permit the establishment of such a prison on its territory two months ago, but it claims that it turned the request down.
However, the reports of this worldwide archipelago of secret prisons has created a firestorm in Europe. The Washington Post reported Nov. 17: “This week, officials in Spain, Sweden, Norway and in the European Parliament said they had either opened formal inquiries or demanded answers from U.S. officials about CIA flights, in response to growing public
opposition in Europe to U.S. anti-terrorism tactics.”
The week before, the Italian government formally charged 22 American citizens with illegally kidnapping a Muslim cleric in Italy and flying him to Egypt, where he was tortured. Some journalists have termed U.S. agencies handing over terrorism suspects to neocolonial governments in the Middle East as “outsourcing” torture.
The Associated Press reported Nov. 28 that EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini had warned that that any of the 25 bloc nations found to have operated secret CIA prisons could have their EU voting rights suspended.
The horrors of the U.S. violations of basic human rights in Iraq have now been highlighted by the suicide of an official respected for his sincerity, a specialist in military ethics. The Los Angeles Times published an article on the case of Col. Ted Westhusing in its Nov. 27 issue. He was the highest U.S. ranking officer to die in Iraq.
“A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights violations. Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who
launched an investigation.
“In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.” When Westhusing killed himself, he was in charge of training Iraqi police.
A basic dilemma of the U.S. rulers is that they are trying to gain enduring control of Iraq’s resources through institutions and personnel that have become profoundly corrupted by unbridled private profit as well as the demoralization and ignorance that the capitalist offensive in the United States has engendered among its soldiers and contractors.
The recently published “Inside the Resistance” by Zaki Chehab (Nation Books, 2005) documents the hatred of the U.S. occupation that has been fostered by the ignorant and unthinking brutality of the U.S. forces and by the flooding of the country by piratical
private groups. It is symptomatic that the notorious Abu Ghraib prison was refurbished by a private prison company.
The extent and depth of the hatred of the occupiers aroused by their brutality and plundering, described by Chehab, are obviously going to make it difficult for the imperialists and any neocolonial government that they sponsor to maintain control of Iraq for very long.
The present government, based mainly on the Shiite religious parties, moreover, has launched its own dirty war against the resistance. On Nov. 13 U.S. forces raided a secret prison of the Iraqi government and discovered 170 obviously starved prisoners, with some showing signs of torture. They were all Sunnis.
Of course, the bombings of Shiite crowds by al-Qaida encourages sectarian conflict between the two sects of Islam. That is its stated purpose. But the Shiite religious leaders have opposed retaliation against Sunnis as such. The exposure of the secret prison was the first compelling evidence that Shiites within the government were victimizing Sunnis. (Because of the concentration of the resistance in the Sunni population, the new Iraqi army and police are largely Shiites.)
In the wake of the furor over the exposure of the secret prison, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, one of the major Shiite parties in the government, called on the U.S. not to obstruct the government’s campaign against the resistance with any hypocritical human-rights or legalistic objections (He said that members of U.S. soldiers had visited the prison in question four times a week before the U.S. command decided to expose it.)
Hakim’s organization includes a paramilitary group called the Badr Brigades, which Sunni politicians and clerics claim has been assassinating Sunnis.
Ironically, the Supreme Council is the Shiite group most closely linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is characteristic of neocolonial governments that they can be totally ruthless because they are less vulnerable to pressure from democratic public opinion than the imperialist regimes themselves. Saddam Hussein’s regime was an example of this.
But the brutality and rapaciousness of the occupation has put the imperialists in a difficult position to hand over rule of the country to any neocolonial government.
The U.S. attempts to manipulate the ethnic and sectarian conflicts in the country make it even more unlikely that it can control or stabilize any neocolonial regime, regardless of the outcome of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.