U.S. OCCUPATION OF IRAQ - The anti-U.S. insurgency grows
Shortly after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, we [International Socialist Review] argued that though the U.S. might achieve quick military successes, it would encounter increasing difficulties as more and more Iraqis rejected the occupation. This has been borne out by events quicker than anyone could have predicted.
Bush declared major combat in Iraq over on May 1. As of the writing of this editorial (July 6), 68 U.S. servicemen-about one per day-have died in numerous ambushes, sniper-attacks and accidents. And the attacks are getting bolder and more organizated. For example, as many as 50 resistance fighters ambushed a U.S. military patrol, and another group wounded at least 17 soldiers in a mortar strike on an American base on July 4.
The Bush administration is trying to deny the scale of the guerrilla resistance, arguing that it consists of isolated remnants of Saddam "loyalists," and that a series of "mopping up" operations will take care of the problem. "The reason I don't use the phrase 'guerrilla war,' Rumsfeld explained, "is because there isn't one, and it would be a misunderstanding and a miscommunication."
When asked if the U.S. was getting mired in a Vietnam-style "quagmire," Rusmfeld shot back: "There are so many cartoons where people, press people, are saying, 'Is it Vietnam yet?' hoping it is and wondering if it is. And it isn't. It's a different time. It's a different era. It's a different place."
The truth is that the guerrilla actions are not only increasing in intensity, but they appear to have widespread support. And no wonder. Mass unemployment is growing as Iraqi industry collapses under the weight of cheaper imports, hundreds of thousands of state employees, from soldiers to civil servants, also remain jobless and haven't been paid for months. Electricity is still, at best, sporadic, as summer temperatures soar. Clean water and decent food remain scarce commodities. American and British troops go house to house, kicking down doors and routinely humiliating, roughing up, arresting and shooting at Iraqis. The American intruders have the final say on every policy question, from who gets released from jail to who gets appointed mayor of a town, to who controls Iraq's most important industries. To add insult to injury, the occupiers are increasingly turning to former Baathist policemen and bureaucrats to reestablish order in the country.
The reaction to this situation is best understood quoting a description of a scene in Basra- a Shia enclave, where it is impossible to blame resistance on Saddam loyalists- by a London Mirror reporter:
"Former Iraqi soldier Najab fingered his pistol and glared at two British soldiers trying to calm an angry crowd protesting at crippling shortages. Speaking outside one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces just 50 yards from the British HQ in Basra, he said: 'Our patience has run out. We've no money to feed ourselves, we haven't been paid for six months and we're fed up with broken promises. We've told the British today that if we're not paid by Friday, we'll arm ourselves with guns again and start killing every foreigner we see in Iraq.'"
While Bush administration officials play down the level of resistance in Iraq, others have a different take. Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies and a former British Army major, is calling Iraq "the beginning of a classic counterinsurgency campaign." And Kenneth Allard, senior associate at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies asks, "Are we facing the prospect of a guerrilla war? The answer to the question is yes."
Heyman concedes that "there is quite obviously a large groundswell of support among ordinary people for operations against the coalition.... Mao Tse-Tung said the guerrilla is the fish that swims in the sea of the people, and you have got to have a sea of people for the guerrilla to swim in."
Ironically, Heyman's solution to this growing insurgency- "there aren't enough troops on the ground"-sounds a lot like the solution to the intractable guerrilla war against U.S. military presence in Vietnam. Simply send in more firepower until the movement is obliterated. That will mean an increasingly more violent and brutal occupation, which in turn will fuel higher levels of anger and willingness on the part of the Iraqi people to join the resistance. The U.S. could find itself pouring more troops in, only to find itself "stalemated" at higher and higher levels of commitment.
U.S. soldiers' morale has begun to slip in the face of this mounting popular rejection of their presence. An officer from the the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq told the Christian Science Monitor that "the level of morale for most soldiers that I've seen has hit rock bottom." There is open grumbling among the troops and a number have written letters to Congress requesting they be sent home. The Monitor continues:
"Security threats, heat, harsh living conditions and, for some soldiers, waiting and boredom have gradually eroded spirits... In one Army unit, an officer described the mentality of troops. "They vent to anyone who will listen. They write letters, they cry, they yell. Many of them walk around looking visibly tired and depressed.... We feel like pawns in a game that we have no voice [in]."
The frustration is also affecting the spouses of troops. An Army colonel recently had to be escorted from a session in Fort Stewart, Ga. with 800 angry army spouses who were demanding their husbands be sent home. According to a witness, the women "were crying, cussing, yelling and screaming for their men to come back."
A July 4 New York Times article reports that the "signs of discomfort seem to be growing beyond the military bases.... [T]he number of respondents who think the war is going well has dropped, from 86 percent in May to 70 percent a month ago to 56 percent."
Bush's cakewalk has turned into a protracted war that is sapping the morale of U.S. troops and raising serious questions at home. The doubts are fuelled by the fact that the excuses offered for the war (liberation and stopping Saddam's weapons of mass destruction) now seem completely hollow. The more the occupation of Iraq unravels, the more difficulty the Bush Administration will have at home, and the more difficult it will be for the U.S. to pursue its imperial plans abroad. That is why we must welcome the strengthening of the resistance in Iraq until it becomes strong enough to compel the U.S. to get out of Iraq.
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