Focus On Iraq: The War Continues

For most people in Britain and the US, Iraq is already history. Afghanistan has long since taken the lion’s share of media attention, as the death toll of Nato troops rises inexorably. Controversy about Iraq is now almost entirely focused on the original decision to invade: what’s happening there in 2010 barely registers.

This view is being reinforced by the continuing Chilcot Inquiry in to the Iraq war, where Tony Blair was again called to give evidence last week. In August last year Obama declared that the occupation was over and he was bringing the troops back home on schedule.  For much of the British and American press, this was the real thing: headlines hailed the “end” of the war and reported “US troops to leave Iraq”.

The US isn’t leaving Iraq; it’s rebranding the occupation
Nothing could be further from the truth. The US hasn’t withdrawn from Iraq at all – it’s just rebranded the occupation. Just as George Bush’s war on terror was re-titled “overseas contingency operations” when Obama became president, US “combat operations” has been rebadged as “stability operations”.

But as Major General Stephen Lanza, the US military spokesman in Iraq, told the New York Times in August: “In practical terms, nothing will change”. After this month’s withdrawal, there will still be 50,000 US troops in 94 military bases, “advising” and training the Iraqi army, “providing security” and carrying out “counter-terrorism” missions. In US military speak, that covers pretty well everything they might want to do.

Granted, 50,000 is a major reduction on the numbers in Iraq a year ago. But what Obama once called “the dumb war” goes remorselessly on. In fact, violence has been increasing as the Iraqi political factions remain deadlocked in rows over the Green Zone and domestic policy. More civilians are being killed in Iraq than Afghanistan. According to the Iraqi government, last year saw worst figures for two years.

And even though US troops are rarely seen on the streets, they are still dying at a rate of six a month, their bases regularly shelled by resistance groups, while Iraqi troops and US-backed militias are being killed in far greater numbers. And al-Qaida – Bush’s gift to Iraq – is back in business across swaths of the country. Although hardly noticed in Britain, there are still 150 British troops in Iraq supporting US forces.

Meanwhile, the US government hasn’t just rebranded the occupation, it has privatised it. There are around 100,000 private contractors working for the occupying forces, of whom more than 11,000 are armed mercenaries, mostly “third country nationals”, typically from the developing world.

The US is now expanding their numbers, in what Jeremy Scahill – who helped expose the role of the notorious US security firm Blackwater – calls the “coming surge” of contractors in Iraq. Hillary Clinton wants to increase the number of military contractors working for the state department alone from 2,700 to 7,000, to be based in five “enduring presence posts” across Iraq.

The advantage of an outsourced occupation is clearly that someone other than US soldiers can do the dying to maintain control of Iraq. It also helps get round the commitment, made just before Bush left office, to pull all American troops out by the end of 2011. The other getout, widely expected on all sides, is a new Iraqi request for US troops to stay on – just as soon as a suitable government can be stitched together to make it.

What is abundantly clear is that the US, whose embassy in Baghdad is now the size of Vatican City, has no intention of letting go of Iraq any time soon. One reason for that can be found in the dozen 20-year contracts to run Iraq’s biggest oil fields that were handed out last year to foreign companies, including three of the Anglo-American oil majors that exploited Iraqi oil under British control before 1958.

The dubious legality of these deals has held back some US companies, but as Greg Muttitt, author of a book on the subject, argues, the prize for the US is bigger than the contracts themselves, which put 60% of Iraq’s reserves under long-term foreign corporate control. If output can be boosted as sharply as planned, the global oil price could be slashed and the grip of recalcitrant Opec states broken.

The horrific cost of the war to the Iraqi people, on the other hand, and the continuing fear and misery of daily life make a mockery of claims that the US surge of 2007 “worked” and that Iraq has come good after all.

It’s not only the hundreds of thousands of dead and 4 million refugees. After seven years of US (and British) occupation, tens of thousands are still tortured and imprisoned without trial, health and education has dramatically deteriorated, the position of women has gone horrifically backwards, trade unions are effectively banned, Baghdad is divided by 1,500 checkpoints and blast walls, electricity supplies have all but broken down and people pay with their lives for speaking out.

Even without the farce of last year’s elections, the banning and killing of candidates and subsequent political breakdown, to claim that “Iraq is a democracy” is grotesque. The Green Zone administration would collapse in short order without the protection of US troops and security contractors. No wonder the speculation among Iraqis and some US officials is of an eventual military takeover.

The Iraq war has been a historic political and strategic failure for the US. It was unable to impose a military solution, let alone turn the country into a beacon of western values or regional policeman. But by playing the sectarian and ethnic cards, it also prevented the emergence of a national resistance movement and a humiliating Vietnam-style pullout. The signs are it wants to create a new form of outsourced semi-colonial regime to maintain its grip on the country and region. The struggle to regain Iraq’s independence has only just begun.

Depleted Uranium
Meanwhile, it has become widely known that the UK used depleted uranium weapons during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. A UK defence official has reportedly admitted using the highly controversial ammunition. “UK forces used about 1.9 metric tons of depleted uranium ammunition in the Iraq war in 2003,” UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox said in a written reply to the House of Commons last year.

It is alleged that a joint inquiry by Iraq’s environment, health and science ministries uncovered more than 40 sites across the war-torn country contaminated with high levels of radiation. The use of uranium ammunition is widely controversial because of potential long-term health effects. The US and UK have allegedly used up to 2,000 tons of such ammunition during the war.

In August last year, Labour Party MP Paul Flynn, speaking to Russia Today said: “The depleted uranium still causes serious health problems. “We know that in the first Iraq war depleted uranium was used in shells. It’s very likely it was used again,” Flynn said. “It’s used as ballast because of its density in shells. It’s not as radioactive as it might be, it’s uranium 238 where the gamma-radiation has been reduced. It’s not a weapon of mass destruction, but sadly it’s a weapon of eternal destruction because it turns into dust and gets into the water supply, into the air and it can of course give children cancer, and cause birth defects.”

Last year, findings of a study conducted by a group of researchers in London suggested the same. One of the authors of the report, British-Iraqi scientist Malak Hamdan told RT: “The study that we have conducted does actually prove that there are massive increases in cancer, a 38-fold increase in leukemia, 10-fold increase in breast cancer -and infant mortalities are also staggering,”.

Iraq’s Ministry for Human Rights is expected to file a lawsuit against Britain and the US over their use of depleted uranium bombs in Iraq and will seek compensation for the victims of these weapons.

Corruption & Repression
Sami Ramadani, a British Iraqi wrote in The Guardian, 28th July 2010: “The Iraqis who Blair and Bush glorified and brought to power through sham elections are bleeding the nation dry through corruption and the sell-off of Iraq’s resources to multinationals. Freedom and democracy is nowhere to be seen. Deploying the US-built Iraqi security forces against the people is common. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have drawn attention to the plight of thousands of prisoners, widespread use of torture, and both judicial and extra-judicial killings”.

“Meanwhile, the litany of repressive policies gets longer. It is illegal to be a member of a trade union, just as it was under Saddam. Paul Bremer, the US envoy who ruled Iraq after the invasion, revived Saddam’s infamous “decree 150” in 2004, effectively banning all public sector unions. Activists are now treated as if they were terrorists. Troops and police have raided the offices of workers’ unions across the country, following a government decree under the 2005 anti-terrorism act, to ban them and seize their assets”.

“Britain’s TUC has described the regime’s action as a “Saddam-style move”, and its general secretary Brendan Barber has written to the foreign secretary, William Hague, to help stop this “dangerous abuse of power”. The president of the Federation of Oil Unions, Hasan Juma’a, and several other union leaders have been charged with contacting the media, sabotaging the economy and high treason. Juma’a believes that the regime is trying to “liquidate” the unions while transferring Iraq’s oil wealth to the multinationals”.

Having auctioned Iraq’s oil wealth, the oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani was recently given the electricity portfolio after mass demonstrations against lack of electricity supplies and regime corruption. Troops opened fire on the demonstrators while the prime minister described them as “hooligans” and deployed troops in Baghdad to stop the protests – dubbed by Iraqis as the “electricity uprising” – spreading to the capital.

Missing Millions
Meanwhile last year, The US department of defence called in forensic accountants to help track $8.1bn – out of a total of  $9.1bn – in Iraq’s oil revenue entrusted to it after the fall of Baghdad, following an official audit that revealed the money was missing. The report was issued by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which had previously criticised poor book-keeping by senior officials throughout the last seven years.

Iraqi officials said they knew nothing about the missing billions and had no means to find where they had been spent. “We will speak to the oil ministry finance committee about this,” said a spokesman for Iraq’s oil minister.

The funds were to be used for the reconstruction of Iraq’s worn-out infrastructure which was to be a central plank of the US military’s achievement. The audit could not find any documentation to substantiate how the Pentagon spent $2.6bn. An additional $53bn has been allocated by Congress to rebuild Iraq and the audit committee is examining whether those funds can be accounted for.

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