[by Gerry Foley]
At a time when the bills for Bush’s adventure in Iraq are being totaled up, the failed offensive of the U.S. client government at the end of March and the beginning of April against the Shiite militias identified with the Islamic radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have introvertibly demonstrated that the U.S. taxpayers’ money has been poured down the drain. Al-Sadr, and his Iranian advisers, were crafty enough
to stop the confrontation with Iraqi government and occupation military forces before major damage was done to the resistance forces.
In the aftermath of the government’s failure, the popular Islamic radical has called for mass demonstrations on April 11 to demand U.S. withdrawal. The U.S occupiers and their client government risk a devastating political defeat. Months ago, polls showed that the majority of Shiites had turned against the U.S. occupation to the point of favoring armed attacks on American soldiers. Undoubtedly, the mood of the Shiite population has continued to turn against the occupation.
The hatred of the U.S.-led occupation is so pervasive that there is no way that any of the institutions built up by the occupying powers can be insulated from it. The Washington Post reported April 4: “A senior official in Iraq’s Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss military operations publicly, said Iraqi troops were overwhelmed by the second day of fighting.
“I was afraid the Iraqi forces would break,” he said. “The official said he estimated that 30 percent of the Iraqi troops abandoned the fight before a cease-fire was reached. He also said that soldiers had been hindered by ammunition and food shortages and that some Iraqi police troops, who were supposed to be backing the Iraqi army, had actually supported the militias.”
The April 4 International Herald Tribune reported massive desertions from the Iraqi government forces: “More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts during the inconclusive assault against Shiite
militias in Basra last week, a senior Iraqi government official said Thursday. Iraqi military officials said the group included dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle.”
Most of the fighting took place in the southern port city of Basra and in the main Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, Sadr City, a teeming slum of 2 million people and al-Sadr’s major stronghold.
A March 31 dispatch in the Washington Post focused on interviews with people in Sadr City after the start of al-Sadr’s ceasefire. The local people, the headline noted, expressed “dispair” with the general evolution of the situation in the country since the U.S. occupation, as well as total contempt for the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi government. One resident said: “‘They promised us a rise in salaries and pensions. It
was all lies,’ he said as his friends nodded. ‘There’s hunger everywhere. No electricity, no water, no cooking gas, no kerosene. It’s only promises. No action.'”
The basic reality for the Iraqi people is that after five years of the U.S.-led occupation, the economic situation in the country remains worse than it was under Saddam Hussein, and this after the U.S. government has poured billions into the country allegedly to reconstruct it.
In an article entitled “Who Won the War?” the British newspaper The Independent argued that while both the Iraqi and American peoples lost, the U.S. and British capitalists made a killing: “At one point, ArmorGroup, chaired by the former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, was getting half its revenues from Iraq. It carried out convoy protection at rates estimated at between $8,000 and $12,000 a day, and helped to guard polling stations during the country’s elections.
“By far the biggest winner of contracts in Iraq, though, is Halliburton, the oil and related services company run by Dick Cheney before he became US vice-president and a key architect of the war. The connections between the company and the Bush administration helped to generate $16bn in contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the three years from the start of 2004—nine times as much as any other company.
“Halliburton decided last year to spin off the division operating in Iraq. That business, KBR, has generated half its revenues there each year since the invasion, providing private security to the military and infrastructure projects and advising on the rebuilding of the country’s oil industry.”
Furthermore, for the big capitalists, the gravy keeps flowing faster: “The Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, which tracks Iraqi contracts in its investigation “Windfalls of War”, says the total value of contracts tendered by the US government in Iraq rose 50 per cent each year from 2004 to 2006. That had been planned to slow in 2007, but KBR said recently that the US military ‘surge’ meant more business than previously expected. After KBR, the US security contractor DynCorp secured the most work, worth $1.8bn over the three years to the end of 2006.”
The occupying powers have been anxious to extend the blessings of the “free market” to Iraq. Specifically, they want to open the flood gates of Iraqi oil for the big Western oil companies through “production agreements” that would offer a more favorable deal to the companies that they can get in any other oil-producing country.
So far the extent of the resistance has dissuaded the oil companies from investing. But they have benefited indirectly from the Iraq war, according to The Independent: “… the war has still contributed handsomely to their record-breaking profits because of sky-high oil prices. As the US prepared to march into Iraq, crude soared to what then seemed an impossibly high $37 a barrel. Last week it reached a record $110.
“The Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the war has added between $5 and $10 a barrel to the price of oil. The figure could be higher, if one believes that the rise also reflects a big additional premium for the threat of future supply disruptions that might be caused by geopolitical tensions or increased terrorist activity in oil-producing regions—any of which might be traced back to the passions inflamed by the war.”
So, Americans pay for the Iraq adventure not only through their taxes but every time they fill up their gas tanks. The Independent article pointed out that at the beginning of the war then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld estimated that it would cost $50 billion, and now the recorded cost is over $500 billion while experts are estimating that the total cost will be in the trillions.
Iraq’s oil, the prize of the war for the U.S. capitalists, still largely eludes them because of the corruption of all the political forces that collaborate with the occupiers. The New York Times reported March 16: “The sea of oil under Iraq is supposed to rebuild the nation, then make it prosper. But at least one-third, and possibly much more, of the fuel from Iraq’s largest refinery here is diverted to the black market, according to American military officials. Tankers are hijacked, drivers are bribed, papers are forged and meters are manipulated—and some of the earnings go to insurgents who are still killing more than 100 Iraqis a week.”
Moreover, it is not only Iraqi but American companies themselves that have been corrupted by the profits offered by the war and the situation it has created. This is the most privatized war the U.S. has fought since the Spanish-American war of 1898. As in the war that established the U.S. of the Robber Barons as an imperialist power, in the current attempt to return to the golden age of American capitalism, U.S. soldiers are endangered not just by enemy bullets but by war profiteers based in their own country.
Following on the heels of scandals about the corrupting of procurement officers by U.S. companies, it has now come to light that the Halliburton subsidiary working in Iraq, a hot and largely desert country, has supplied U.S. soldiers with polluted water.
A March 9 dispatch by an Associated Press reporter published in USA Today revealed: “Dozens of U.S. troops in Iraq fell sick at bases using ‘unmonitored and potentially unsafe’ water supplied by the military and a contractor once owned by Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, the Pentagon’s internal watchdog says.
“A report obtained by The Associated Press said soldiers experienced skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections, diarrhea and other illnesses after using discolored, smelly water for personal hygiene and laundry at five U.S. military sites in Iraq.
“The Defense Department’s inspector general’s report, which could be released as early as Monday, found water quality problems between March 2004 and February 2006 at three sites run by contractor KBR Inc., and between January 2004 and December 2006 at two military-operated locations.”
On top of all this, the political alliances that offered the U.S. supporters to the war some ground to argue that the occupation was achieving progress toward its goals are now faltering. The Sunni militias that have allowed the U.S. to deal setbacks to insurgents in the most turbulent provinces have been showing more and more signs of disillusion with their American sponsors, who cannot or will not offer them satisfaction of their demands.
The Kurds are increasingly embittered by the U.S. toleration of raids into the Kurdish areas of the north by the Turkish military. And now, as the latest confrontation with al-Sadr showed, the Shiite population is becoming a seething cauldron of rage against the occupiers and their client government. Thus, the Iraq War threatens to move on beyond being a disaster for the American and Iraqi peoples to become an unprecedented disaster for U.S. capitalism itself.
Big business, however, will have great difficulty in detaching itself from the Tar Baby of war profits. The American people, meanwhile, will have to force the government and capitalist class to disengage from Iraq in order to stop the drain in blood and finances that the war represents for them.