[by Gerry Foley]
The end of the year was the occasion for balance sheets of the Iraq war both by the press and U.S. government officials. Generally these accounts stressed that although 2007 was the deadliest year of the war for U.S. forces and for Iraqis, both civilians and members of the security forces, there has been a notable decline in casualties in the last six months. This decline was supposedly owing both to the increase of U.S. troops and the success of the occupation forces in enlisting local allies against al-Qaeda.
However, commentators in the major U.S. press and U.S. military commanders have generally been warning that the relative decline in insurgent attacks may prove only a temporary lull and that a number of possible scenarios could lead to a new upsurge in fighting, perhaps going far beyond anything seen so far. In other words, there is no indication that the U.S. ruling class is any closer to achieving the objectives for which it launched the war. And in fact it seems clear that the U.S. war and occupation have made Iraq into a giant powder keg.
The U.S. occupation’s most highly touted success, the enlistment of Sunni militias (gangs, in reality) against al-Qaeda is already beginning to show its drawbacks. An article in the Dec. 26 Christian Science Monitor indicated a dilemma for the U.S. occupation:
“Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, told worshippers gathered near his office in southwest Baghdad that the so-called awakening groups, many of whom once fought against U.S. forces but have since turned their guns on extremists, must side with the government. ‘I stress the necessity of having the awakening councils be on the side of the government in chasing terrorists and criminals, but not be a substitute for it,’ al-Hakim said. ‘Weapons should be within the hands of the government only.'”
However, the article went on to note: “The United States has been pushing the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to integrate the awakening groups into the Army or police. That’s something the Iraqis have been reluctant to do so far, worried that their guns might end up turned on them.”
In conclusion, the article quoted from a blog by Pat Lang, a former State Department advisor: “Many problems remain in Iraq. The central government remains the monstrous engine of ethno-religious factional politics that the Coalition Provisional Authority [the initial occupation government] created….
“At present the US has accepted as temporary allies many of those who fought against us before the ‘Anbar Awakening.’ That is as it should be. We should continue that policy in other parts of the country. What we should not think is that our former enemies have become reconciled to a permanent US military garrison in their country. To think that would be a terrible mistake….
“Bottom Line? Those who fight beside us now will fight us again if we decide to occupy their country permanently.”
However, there is abundant evidence, despite some denials, that the U.S. intends to maintain long-term bases in Iraq, and an AP dispatch of Nov. 26 indicated that the U.S.’s client government in Baghdad is preparing to formally ask them to do that. After all, the U.S. needs to maintain its military dominance of the country in order to secure the objectives for which it is sacrificing trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraq ones—that is, full control of the Iraqi oil reserves.
Furthermore, some of the decline in attacks on U.S. troops apparently stems from tactical decisions by forces that are fundamentally hostile to the U.S. presence, such as the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr and splinters from it that are more closely linked to radical elements within the Iranian state apparatus. The dominant forces within the Iranian regime are probably hoping that a Shiite-dominated government friendly to Iran will ultimately emerge from the political turmoil created by the war and occupation.
Ironically, the U.S.’s principal ally among the Shiite organizations, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution and its militia, the Badr Brigades, have closer links to Iran than Moqtada al-Sadr. As for al-Sadr himself, he continues to maintain an important foothold in the administration of the U.S.-backed government, most notably in the health services, and has called on his followers to avoid confrontation with the occupation forces until further notice. Such tactical stances could be reversed at any time for many possible reasons.
At present, the U.S. military has run into a stone wall in trying to extend its “awakening councils into areas controlled by the Shiite militias. A Dec. 22 dispatch from the McClatchy news service reported: “Recently, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite, has directed that no councils be formed in the predominantly Shiite areas of southern Iraq, where violence is caused primarily by rivalries between the Mahdi Army militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and the Supreme Council’s Badr Organization militia.
“In recent weeks, the government has taken steps to quash any possible formation of awakening councils.” The dispatch quoted a leading member of the Supreme Council as saying that the U.S. intended to enroll 70,000 members of awakening councils in the predominately Shiite south and was offering to pay every member $300 a month, an extremely seductive sum in the conditions of poverty and unemployment that have developed in Iraq since the invasion. The Supreme Council member in question warned that the U.S. use of such means to hire armed stooges threatened to spread destabilization in the country.
In Baghdad, al-Sadr’s organizaton is threatening violent retaliation against anyone who joins the “Awakening Councils”: “In Baghdad’s Abu Dsheer neighborhood, a Shiite area in the mostly Sunni Dora district, one man reported that he tried to join the local security volunteers organization, primarily because $300 was double his current salary as a cleaner. But the Mahdi Army threatened to kill anyone who joined and burn down the local council’s building. Fliers headlined ‘the final warning’ were posted throughout the area.”
Moreover, indications have begun appearing that the most important de facto allies of the U.S. occupation, the conservative Shiite clerical leaders like Ali al-Sistani, are losing their influence because of mass disillusion with the U.S. client government they support.
Thus, the Washington Post reported Dec. 21: “Two years after helping to bring to power a government led by Shiite religious parties, Iraq’s paramount Shiite clerics find their influence diminished as their followers criticize them for backing a political alliance that has failed to pass crucial legislation, improve basic services or boost the economy.
“‘Now the street is blaming what’s happening on the top clerics and the government,’ said Ali al-Najafi, the son of Bashir al-Najafi, one of four leading clerics collectively called the marjaiya.”
U.S. relations with its other major ally in Iraq, the Kurdish nationalists, are also becoming more difficult, because it has to try to juggle between them and a strategic ally for the entire region, Turkey, a state that views Kurdish nationalism in general as a threat to its existence. In order to appease the Turkish regime, the U.S. government has decided to sanction and even collaborate with Turkish military incursions into, and bombing, of the autonomous Kurdish area in Northern Iraq.