[Marxism] US imperialists weigh prospect of decades of occupying, BUT NOT CONTROLLING, Iraq

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Nov 26 20:03:01 MST 2005


The following articles highlight aspects of the US imperialist debate
over how to manage the debacle -- though nowhere close yet to a
Vietnam-style defeat --  of the US imperialist offensive in invading
Iraq.

CAN the imperialists withdraw without a political and military disaster
for them in the region?  But can US public opinion, the antiwar
movement, and the developing social unrest in the United States -- be
contained with a policy of merely hanging on in Iraq without any
perspective of stabilizing US domination?  

I am also coming to the conclusion that Al Qaeda and related groups have
become more popular and more dangerous to US interests as a consequence
of the US war.  I believe that Zarqawi is alive, and that his group is a
real force in the resistance -- and not primarily as "foreign" fighters,
but as a component of the Iraq resistance. I think that participating in
the resistance to the occupation of Iraq and the demonization by the US
has made them more of a genuine political force in the region, with
wider popular sympathy, despite the brutal antipopular character of many
actions. While it is likely that they -- and not they alone -- are
infiltrated by US agents and sometimes manipulated into some of their
anti-popular actions, I do not believe that they are simply false-flag
or psy-op fronts for the CIA but are real expressions of a kind of
bourgeois anti-imperialist politics in the current crisis of leadership
across the Muslim world facing a sharpening conflict with imperialism
that they did not seek.

The introductory comments that follow are by the always interesting --
to me at least, though we don't always agree by any means -- Professor
Mark Jensen from the Seattle-based SNOW-NEWS group
Fred Feldman



 
ANALYSIS: Three years in, think tank says Iraq war only in 'its very
early stages' 

[It didn't rate a mention in either the *New York Times* or the
*Washington Post*.  --  But London's *Financial Times* reported that on
Wednesday a well-respected British think tank called the Oxford Research
Group issued a report authored by Prof. Paul Rogers of the University of
Bradford predicting that the Iraq war is now only in "its very early
stages":  "Maintaining a friendly government in Baghdad is an essential
part of U.S. security policy, even if it requires a permanent U.S.
military presence. . . . 

This is because long-term access to oil from the region is essential to
the U.S., given its increasing dependence on imported oil.  --  If Iraq
can no longer be controlled, and if Iran guards its independence, then
the U.S. risks finding its access to Gulf oil diminishing at precisely
the same time as China seeks to make gains in the region.  --  Contrary
to some reports, the insurgency is not diminishing. . . . 

[T]he report concludes that the war in Iraq has been a 'gift' for
al-Qaeda.  --  Iraq has become a magnet for young jihadists, replacing
Afghanistan as a combat training zone, even to the extent that jihadists
from Afghanistan now travel to Iraq to gain combat experience, taking
their skills back to Afghanistan to use against Western forces there, it
says."[1]  --  In its news release, the Oxford Research Group said what
it called "the al-Qaida movement" is "successfully presenting the U.S.
presence as a neo-Christian occupation of a major Islamic state, gaining
new recruits as it does so.  Baghdad was the seat of the most notable
historic Islamic caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate of 750 to 1250, and
with it now seen as under U.S. control, this can be used as a powerful
rallying call to potential paramilitaries."[2]  --  The October 2005
report is reproduced below.[3]  -- Prof. Rogers notes that al-Qaida is
"now more of an idea than a firm movement, and is therefore much more
difficult to infiltrate, track, and counter."  -- 

(It is the thesis of Adam Curtis's "The Power of
Nightmares"[http://www.ufppc.org/content/view/3394/] that this was
always the case.)  --  Prof. Rogers argues that "regional geopolitics,
especially the security of Gulf oil supplies, means that there is no
serious prospect of the United States withdrawing substantially from
Iraq.   As argued in an earlier briefing (*US Options in Iraq*, May
2005), one option for the United States forces would be what is
sometimes called 'Plan B', a withdrawal from the cities and
consolidation of US troops in a small number of large heavily protected
bases, including some strategically located close to the major oil
fields."  --  

(This is actually what Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12th) proposed
[http://www.ufppc.org/content/view/3647/] on Nov. 17; Republicans
mischaracterized his speech as a call for "immediate withdrawal.")  --
The October report concludes that there is a significant possibility
that as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, "not only will the
country [come to] constitute a long-term training environment in urban
guerrilla warfare, but it will also be available as a base for al-Qaida
operations.  As Afghanistan was in the 1990s, so Iraq may be in the
coming decade -- that is the extraordinary potential consequence of the
decision to terminate the Saddam Hussein regime by force."  --  In other
words, the widely circulated 2002 antiwar "recruiting" poster
(http://www.outlandishjosh.com/images/uncleosama.jpg) that showed Uncle
Osama saying "I want you to invade Iraq" expressed an essential truth
about the American invasion.  --Mark [Jensen]]

http://www.ufppc.org/content/view/3678/ 

1. 

Middle East & Africa 

Iraq 

IRAQ CONFLICT 'STILL IN ITS EARLY STAGES' By Fiona Symon 

Financial Times (UK) November 23, 2005 

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/a33ef8ca-5c0e-11da-af92-0000779e2340.html 

The war in Iraq is still in its early stages and British troops are
likely to be bogged down in the conflict for decades, a report by the
Oxford Research Group claimed on Wednesday. 

Maintaining a friendly government in Baghdad is an essential part of
U.S. security policy, even if it requires a permanent U.S. military
presence, says the report by the independent U.K. think tank.  This is
because long-term access to oil from the region is essential to the US,
given its increasing dependence on imported oil. 

If Iraq can no longer be controlled, and if Iran guards its
independence, then the U.S. risks finding its access to Gulf oil
diminishing at precisely the same time as China seeks to make gains in
the region. 

Contrary to some reports, the insurgency is not diminishing and it is
likely to prove very difficult to withdraw all the British troops from
Iraq unless there is a major change of policy by the British government,
risking a break with the United States, says the report by Oxford
Research Group's global security consultant, Professor Paul Rogers of
Bradford University. 

The report will make unwelcome reading for the British and US
governments, which have both indicated that they hope to begin reducing
the number of troops involved in Iraq after the next Iraqi parliamentary
elections are held in December. 

The report provides a detailed month-by-month assessment of the
developing insurgency for a year between late 2004 and 2005. 

Pointing to the growing numbers of civilian casualties, as well as the
failure to control the insurgency, even with the use of overwhelming
firepower, as with the assault on Fallujah last November, the report
concludes that the war in Iraq has been a 'gift' for al-Qaeda. 

Iraq has become a magnet for young jihadists, replacing Afghanistan as a
combat training zone, even to the extent that jihadists from Afghanistan
now travel to Iraq to gain combat experience, taking their skills back
to Afghanistan to use against western forces there, it says. 

2. 

For Release: 00.01 hrs, Wednesday 23rd November 2005 

NEW REPORT SAYS COMPLETE BRITISH WITHDRAWAL UNLIKELY -- WAR COULD LAST
DECADES 

Oxford Research Group November 23, 2005 

http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/aboutus/pressrelease231105.pdf 

Contrary to recent reports from Iraq, the insurgency is not diminishing
and it is likely to prove very difficult to withdraw all the British
troops from Iraq unless there is a major change of policy by the British
government, risking a break with the United States.  This is one of the
main conclusions of a major study of the second year of the Iraq War,
during which the insurgency became deeply embedded, resulting in the
deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians. 

*Iraq and the War on Terror: Twelve Months of Insurgency, 2004-2005* is
the new edition of Oxford Research Group's annual International Security
Report for 2005.  Published today, it assesses the Iraq War as still
being in its early stages, pointing to two fundamental factors that
indicate that it will last for many years. 

1. The occupation of Iraq is proving to be a 'gift' to the al-Qaida
movement. It is successfully presenting the U.S. presence as a
neo-Christian occupation of a major Islamic state, gaining new recruits
as it does so.  Baghdad was the seat of the most notable historic
Islamic caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate of 
750 to 1250 (western calendar), and with it now seen as under U.S.
control, this can be used as a powerful rallying call to potential
paramilitaries. 

Al-Qaida readily uses the terminology of a crusader occupation and
points to the close connections between the United States and Israel as
proof of a Christian/Zionist plot to control Iraq and dominate Arab oil.
Whatever the validity of this, the message is both seductive and
effective. 

As a result, Iraq is now becoming a magnet for young jihadists and has
already replaced Afghanistan as a paramilitary combat training zone,
even to the extent that jihadists from Afghanistan now travel to Iraq to
gain combat experience, taking their skills back to Afghanistan to use
against Western forces there. 

2. Ensuring Iraqi security and maintaining a friendly government in
Baghdad is an essential part of U.S. security policy even if it requires
a permanent U.S. military presence.  This is because long-term access to
Persian Gulf oil is essential to the United States, given its increasing
dependence on imported oil.  If Iraq can no longer be controlled, and if
Iran guards its independence fiercely, then the United States will find
its access to Gulf oil diminishing at precisely the same time as China
seeks to make gains in the region. 

These two factors, al-Qaida's use of the Iraq occupation and the U.S.
need to be dominant in the region, mean that Iraq is potentially the
focus for a long-term conflict that is still in its very early stages.
A U.S. withdrawal would be a foreign policy disaster for them greater
than the retreat from Vietnam, and it would take a fundamental change of
policy in Washington for this to happen.  Meanwhile, the al-Qaida
movement gains strength from this very occupation. 

The report concludes: 

--Given that the al-Qaida movement and its affiliates are seeking to
achieve their aims over a period of decades rather than years, the
probability is that, short of major political changes in the U.S.A., the
Iraq war might well be measured over a similar time span. 

--For Britain, the likelihood of a peaceful withdrawal of U.K. troops
from South East Iraq is minimal unless London breaks with Washington.
This would be a major policy shift for the Blair government,
representing the sharpest difference in its relationship with Washington
in the past eight years.  In present circumstances it is highly
unlikely, yet the war is likely to cast an increasing shadow over U.K.
politics in the next year. 

In covering the 12-month 2004-05 period, the report provides a detailed
month-by-month assessment of the developing insurgency, pointing to the
growing numbers of civilian casualties, as well as the failure to
control the insurgency, even with the use of overwhelming firepower, as
with the assault on Fallujah last November. 

Written by Oxford Research Group's global security consultant, Professor
Paul Rogers of the University of Bradford, *Iraq and the War on Terror*
is the second in a series of annual reports from this independent policy
group. Based in Oxford, it works on alternative security policies and
was recently named as one of Britain's top twenty think tanks for
innovative thinking. 

*Iraq and the War on Terror* is published today by I.B. Tauris, one of
the leading publishers on international relations and Middle East
studies. 

Contacts: Professor Paul Rogers - 07867 982 061 / 01484 603 194 Chris
Abbott (Oxford Research Group) - 01865 242 819 Hannah Ross (I.B. Tauris)
- 020 7243 1225 ex. 120 www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk
chris.abbott at oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk 

3. 

Global Security 

IRAQ IN A WIDER PERSPECTIVE By Professor Paul Rogers 

Oxford Research Group International Security Monthly Briefing October
2005 

http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/paulrogers/Oct05.htm 

The month of September had been considered a relatively easy month for
U.S. forces in Iraq, in that only 49 American military personnel were
killed.  This was the lowest figure for six months and was one of the
factors that gave rise to another phase of the oft-repeated claim that
the insurgency was easing.  In some ways, even this 'good news' was
misleading, in that the military deaths in September were still higher
than for any of the six months from May to October 2003 when the
insurgency was getting into its stride. 

In any case, the optimism was short-lived in that the following month,
October, turned out to be one of the worst since the start of the war,
with 96 troops killed.  Apart from the two months of intensive fighting
around Fallujah in April and November of last year, there was only one
month since the war started, January of this year, when the death toll
among American forces was higher.  Overall, the period from August to
October 2005 has been particularly difficult for the U.S. forces in
Iraq.  It is not just the death toll, standing at 230 for the three
months, but it is also the persistently high rate of injuries.  In this
period, 1,700 U.S. personnel have been injured, with 600 of them
sustaining serious injuries, most of these being evacuated to Landstuhl
military hospital in Germany and then on to the United States for
longer-term treatment.  About half of all the troops sent back to the
United States are eventually discharged from the armed forces, many of
them disabled for life. 

There had been an expectation that there would be a surge in the
violence around the time of the referendum, but this had also been
anticipated during earlier elections, and maintaining U.S. troops and
Iraqi security forces on high alert had actually reduced the incidence
of attacks on previous occasions.  While the referendum did yield a
positive result for the new constitution, it came close to falling as
two provinces rejected it.  Since three were required to do so for it to
fail to be approved, the constitution goes ahead, but it seems likely to
do little to curb the insurgency. 

Meanwhile, the casualties among Iraqi police and security forces
continue at a high level.  Iraq Body Count now reports up to 30,000
casualties since the war began.  While the great majority have been
civilians, the police and security forces continue to be severely
affected.  There have also been some highly sophisticated attacks,
including one on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad that is used widely by
the foreign media.  The hotel is across the river from the heavily
protected 'green zone' that houses the Iraqi government, U.S. Embassy
and many other U.S. facilities, but the Palestine Hotel is in a heavily
protected compound.  On 24 October, two bombs were used to breach the
outer protected perimeter around the hotel complex, and a cement truck
loaded with explosives was then rammed through the damaged perimeter and
into the compound before exploding.  Although the hotel was not
destroyed, at least seventeen people were killed. 

COUNTERING THE INSURGENCY 

Two trends have recently emerged in the evolution of the insurgency.
One is the increased use of large improvised explosive devices against
road convoys including the more regular use of shaped charge explosives
that are able to pierce armored vehicles.  Many of the recent American
casualties have been caused by such IEDs and they are also being used
against British forces in the southeast of the country, so much so that
the British Army is making far more use of its limited force of
helicopters in order to move troops around and minimize road patrols. 

One of the responses on the U.S. side is to increase the number of major
military operations in the towns and cities north west of Baghdad
towards the Syrian border.  This region has been presumed to be both a
center of insurgency and a route for foreign paramilitaries coming in
from Syria.  There were several occasions in October when combined
U.S./Iraqi forces of well over a thousand troops were deployed against
particular centers of population.  A feature of these attacks was the
use of substantial firepower, including helicopter gun-ships and strike
aircraft.  This often involved the targeting of presumed insurgent
strongholds with substantial bombing raids, leading to reports from U.S.
sources of many insurgents killed.  All too often, however, these were
followed by reports from local hospitals of large numbers of civilian
casualties.  Although it is difficult to be sure, it is probably the
case that as the deaths and injuries among U.S. troops stay at a high
level, and as the U.S. military forces appear unable to curb the
insurgency, so there is a marked tendency to play to their strengths.
The main one is the immense fire power advantage, but the two inevitable
results of this, as seen in Fallujah a year ago, are firstly the
civilian deaths and other collateral damage, and secondly the persistent
reporting of these actions across the region, even though they may
seldom reach into the Western media. 

AL-QAIDA EVOLVING 

The July 2005 briefing (*London, Sharm al Sheikh and the al-Qaida
Movement*) in this series sought to analyze the significance of Iraq for
al-Qaida.  In a general sense it is certainly the case that the
continuing Western occupation of Iraq is very useful to the al-Qaida
movement.  Since one of the long-term aims of the movement is to
establish a renewed Islamic caliphate, the fact that Baghdad was the
main city of the Abbasid Caliphate for several hundred years is a
powerful motivating force.  The occupation of Iraq can readily be
presented as a neo-Christian endeavour involving Israeli (Zionist)
cooperation that is an affront to Islam and is, furthermore, also
motivated by a determination to control Arab oil. 

Moreover, the high civilian death toll in Iraq, and the widespread
reporting by regional satellite news channels of the death and
destruction wrought by high-tech U.S. weapons systems both serve to
increase anti-Americanism, not just in the region itself but also across
the wider world.  This may not all be directly relevant to al-Qaida,
given that foreign paramilitaries still make up only a small minority of
the insurgents in Iraq, but this is likely to grow with time, and it is
certainly the case that Iraq is becoming significant as a combat
training zone for young Islamic paramilitaries. 

In the past four years, al-Qaida has lost a number of its key leaders,
either killed or detained, and has also lost its main base in
Afghanistan.  As such it is limited to those parts of Pakistan and
Afghanistan that are not under government or U.S. control.  Many
analysts argue that this is not a major problem for the movement since
it has undergone a metamorphosis into a much more dispersed entity.
Having lost its more structured organization of pre-9/11 days, al-Qaida
is now more of an idea than a firm movement, and is therefore much more
difficult to infiltrate, track, and counter. 

Such a form of analysis also points to the many different attacks that
al-Qaida and its affiliates have carried out in the past four years,
including Bali, London, Djakarta, Istanbul, Karachi, Casablanca, Madrid,
and many more. This list excludes a number of attacks that may have been
countered by Western agencies, including potential incidents in Rome,
Paris, and Singapore, a cluster of incidents that was augmented by
George Bush in October to include planned attacks in Los Angeles,
London's Heathrow Airport, and the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian
Gulf. 

In listing these further operations, President Bush was seeking to show
that al-Qaida is being curtailed and that the United States and its
coalition partners are having successes in his global war on terror.  It
can also be interpreted in a rather different way.  If this 'weakened'
organisation is able to mount all the attacks listed above, while having
other operations intercepted, it suggests a capability that is
formidable, and is certainly much greater than its level of operations
in an equivalent period before the 
9/11 attacks. 

There is, though, a further factor to consider.  An objective assessment
is that the al-Qaida movement remains active, and is capable of
encouraging if not actually directly organising attacks across the
world.  Moreover, it can do this when it has only the loosest of
structures and operates without a coherent base.  While this could be
represented as a successful transformation, not least because it makes
counter-terrorism operations so difficult, it could also be said to be a
disadvantage in that an even greater capability could result from a
combination of this dispersed movement with a more coherent base that
would demonstrate that the movement actually holds distinct territory.
If this combination was to evolve, then the wider jihadist movement,
with al-Qaida at its center, could become very much more potent. 

AL-QAIDA IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN 

Could such a combination evolve?  There are two current possibilities --
Afghanistan and Iraq.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency continues,
currently tying down around 20,000 foreign troops, mostly American.
This force operates in those eastern and southern provinces of
Afghanistan in which Taliban and other guerrilla groups are currently
operating.  It is distinct from the International Security Assistance
Force (ISAF) that engages in peacekeeping and peace-enforcing operations
in Kabul and some other cities. At the present time, the guerrilla
forces may have influence over some districts but cannot be said to
control them in the manner in which the Taliban regime did in the 1990s.


Nor is it possible for al-Qaida militias to operate freely in North and
South Waziristan and other districts across the Pakistan border.  Osama
bin Laden and other elements of the surviving leadership, together with
paramilitary support, may be able to move around in the
Afghanistan/Pakistan border zone, but that is different from having a
degree of territorial control that enables them to maintain training
camps and other facilities.  This is what was in existence prior to the
termination of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001. It is true that
many of the jihadists who went to the training camps in Afghanistan
during this earlier era were actually doing so in order to join the
Taliban in their ongoing civil war with the Northern Alliance.  This was
a more significant role for the training camps than preparing
paramilitaries for action in other parts of the world, although that may
have been a subsidiary function. 

At the present time, it is unlikely that Taliban or al-Qaida militia
have adequate territorial control in Afghanistan to establish training
camps, and they certainly do not have such capabilities in Pakistan.  At
the same time, relatively small groups of insurgents are tying down
close to 20,000 Western combat troops supported by helicopters, strike
aircraft, and a wide range of space-based and land/air-based
reconnaissance facilities.  Their very ability to do so means that such
insurgents are continually getting combat training. For the U.S. forces,
with their problems of overstretch, Afghanistan is becoming a costly
diversion while they have much larger forces committed in Iraq.  Their
predicament is that they cannot withdraw, nor can they hand over to less
well-equipped forces from coalition partners, because of the risk that
Taliban/al-Qaida paramilitaries could make territorial advances that
could give them the potential to re-establish bases. 

A NEW BASE FOR AL-QAIDA 

If this is a potential problem in Afghanistan, then it is a far greater
risk in Iraq, even if the number of foreign paramilitaries remains
relatively small so far.  The insurgency shows no signs of diminishing,
but regional geopolitics, especially the security of Gulf oil supplies,
means that there is no serious prospect of the United States withdrawing
substantially from Iraq. As argued in an earlier briefing (US Options in
Iraq, May 2005), one option for the United States forces would be what
is sometimes called "Plan B", a withdrawal from the cities and
consolidation of US troops in a small number of large heavily protected
bases, including some strategically located close to the major oil
fields. 

Such a redeployment would leave U.S. forces far less vulnerable to
insurgent attacks but would enable them to aid a client government in
Baghdad when necessary.  It was pointed out, though, that this would
depend on the successful training and operation of Iraqi police and
security force units, with them taking over many security functions
still being undertaken by U.S. forces.  So far this has had made little
progress.  Moreover, there would still be a major U.S. presence in Iraq,
serving as a continuing magnet for young paramilitaries drawn to Iraq
from throughout the region and beyond. 

Even so, a withdrawal from the cities and a much greater reliance on air
power to limit insurgents and support a client government would have the
domestic political advantage of decreasing American casualties.  Given
the current unpopularity of the Bush administration, there is a real
concern in Republican Party circles that the mid-term congressional
elections in a year's time could see major gains for the Democrats.  If
they were to achieve substantive majorities in the House and Senate, as
is certainly possible, the last two years of the Bush administration
could make for a seriously "lame duck" presidency, limiting the chances
for a conservative victory in the 2008 Presidential Election. 

For these reasons of domestic reality, some version of "Plan B" might
well come to the fore in the next four to six months, but this may now
have the added drawback of allowing the al-Qaida movement to gain a much
stronger base within Iraq.  This is by no means certain -- the al-Qaida
presence in Iraq makes up a small minority of the insurgency, even if
its leadership is both innovative in its methods and particularly
skilled at publicizing its actions.  In spite of this, there are
persistent tensions between foreign jihadists linked to al-Qaida and
what might best be described as neo-Ba'athist and Iraqi nationalist
insurgents. 

The real issue is one of timescales.  If the U.S. forces do
progressively withdraw to major bases while supporting the Iraqi
government and retaining large forces in the country, they are likely to
be entrenched in such dispositions for some years to come.  With
continuing violence and the consequent civilian casualties, Iraq will
remain a magnet for paramilitaries from many other countries, providing
a combat training zone that may have an effect stretching over more than
a decade, not least as an increasing proportion of the insurgents come
from abroad. 

This was already recognized as one of the consequences of the occupation
of the country.  What is new is the idea that the U.S. predicament may
go further than this if Iraq ends up having substantial districts that
are simply not under any kind of central control.  In these
circumstances, not only will the country constitute a long-term training
environment in urban guerrilla warfare, but it will also be available as
a base for al-Qaida operations.  As Afghanistan was in the 1990s, so
Iraq may be in the coming decade -- that is the extraordinary potential
consequence of the decision to terminate the Saddam Hussein regime by
force.

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