portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary global

imperialism & war

Iraq: From Conquest to Quagmire

RW ONLINE: Iraq: From Conquest to Quagmire

Iraq: From Conquest to Quagmire

Revolutionary Worker #1207, July 20, 2003, posted at rwor.org

"People are always shooting at the Americans these days."

Young Iraqi man, sitting outsidea U.S. base, July 4

"At night time you think about all the people you killed... There's no chance to forget it, we're still here, we've been here so long."

Corporal Michael Richardson, 22 years old, 3rd U.S. Infantry Division's Bravo Company, London Evening Standard , June 19

The armed resistance in Iraq is growing with each passing week. U.S. occupation troops, their British allies, and local Iraqi collaborators are being picked off in waves of guerrilla attacks.

On May 1, after six weeks of bombardment and land invasion, President Bush strutted across an aircraft carrier to declared victory over Iraq.

Now, almost three months later, his macho claims look hollow. The war continues. And it has morphed from a high-tech war of conquest into a brutal counterinsurgency fought out in villages and alleyways across Iraq.

Since Bush's declaration of victory, U.S. forces have suffered a steady drumbeat of casualties averaging one dead American soldier a day.

Between May 1 and July 10, a total of 74 U.S. soldiers have been killed and at least 380 have been injured or wounded. In official reports, the U.S. military separates the combat casualties from accidental deaths. However, many of those so-called "accidents" result from humvees speeding to avoid attack.

British occupation forces are also suffering continued losses, including six soldiers killed by a crowd in the southern town of Majar al Kabir.

On July 10, retiring General Tommy Franks told Congress that U.S. forces are now being hit by between 10 and 25 attacks a day.

Few areas of the country are under secure U.S. or British control. One significant example: On June 19, the U.S. Agency for International Development released a report saying that security at the port of Umm Qasr remains "a major problem" and "has become even more problematic." Umm Qasr was the first town taken by the invading forces, and it is highly strategic because it is the only functioning port for incoming shipments. Yet even there, the occupying forces are unable to establish control.

U.S. troops have repeatedly been shot by Iraqi men who simply walk up to them and open fire. Mines have been planted along convoy routes. And increasingly organized ambushes are launched. Snipers shoot into American camps and road blocks. And in some daring operations, Iraqis stand up in open cars to fire rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at passing American convoys. In one attack, four mortars landed in the heart of a U.S. airbase near Balad, north of Baghdad--and injured at least 18 U.S. soldiers.

U.S. forces nicknamed one highway 45 miles northeast of Baghdad "RPG Alley" -- because grenades are shot constantly at humvees from the string of villages.

British journalist Robert Fisk told Amy Goodman ( Democracy Now , June 12), "The people who I talked to, the sergeants and captains and so on--most of them acknowledge that something had gone wrong, that this was not going to be good. One guy said to me, every time we go down to the river area in Fallujah...it's like Somalia down there. You always get shot at and you always get stoned, I mean, have stones thrown at them. Some of the soldiers spoke very frankly about the situation in Baghdad...they all say that Baghdad airport now comes under nightly sniper fire from the perimeter of the runways from Iraqis. Two of them told me that every time a military aircraft comes in at night, it's fired at. In fact some of the American pilots are now going back to the old [Vietnam era] tactic of cork screwing down tightly on to the runways from above rather than making the normal level flight approach across open countryside because they're shot at so much."

The attacks on U.S. and British forces are showing an increasing degree of coordination and planning--sometimes involving ambushes of small units, and at other times coordinated with announcements in the Arab press. The day after Paul Bremer announced that the occupation authorities would sell off Iraq's national assets to foreign private companies, an explosion blew up a key gas pipeline fueling electrical production in Baghdad and much of central Iraq.

At the same time, Iraqi collaborators have everywhere become targets of the resistance. One Iraqi man, who has joined the new police forces serving the occupation, described to the New York Times how he found a letter in his yard that said, "Leave the coalition forces, or else you will regret it." It was signed "Iraqi Liberation Army (Muhammad's Army)."

On July 5, an explosion went off in Ramadi, just as the first American-trained class of Iraqi police recruits were going through their graduation ceremonies. Seven collaborators died and 54 were injured. "That is what you get for working with the Americans. They have all been warned before," one elderly Iraqi shouted in the emergency ward of a nearby hospital.

Afterwards, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who now heads the Baghdad police force, offered $2,500 reward to encourage informers. A week later, grenades were launched into the Fallujah police station. And one hundred Iraqi police threatened to quit if the U.S. forces were not pulled out of town.

Brutality and Collective Punishment

"There is still a war going on ... But there is no crisis. We can handle it. We're killing them on a daily basis when they attack us."

Maj. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, U.S. ground forces commander

"Maysam Salaah Abd al Rasool Mashkoor, a university student, was killed in the U.S. bombing."

"Kalil Abrahim al Saidy, a lawyer, died from burns after American troops fired a missile at his car."

Some of the funeral banners hanging throughout Baghdad in busy intersections

"Operation Sidewinder," carried out in the first week of July and named after a poisonous snake, was designed specifically to threaten people in more than 20 villages across a broad swath of central Iraq. The region has become "the nexus of paramilitary activity in central Iraq," the military said in a statement.

"We go in with such overwhelming combat power that they won't even think about shooting us," Lt. Col. Mark Young, a 4th Infantry battalion commander, said before the start of the operation.

One Associated Press report (July 2) described how U.S. tanks and helicopters roared into a small town of As Sadah, north of Badhdad. Their raid found nothing, other than a few typical caches of weapons. In three days of such operations, the U.S. had seized 300 men, but admitted that none were known "fugitives."

Lt.Col. Young openly admitted that his goal was to threaten the local people with collective punishment. He told reporters: "The purpose of the operation is to go in and let the local community know that we will not tolerate their complacency or support for the attacks." The AP reported: "Several times during the raid, Young pulled aside local leaders and--through the battalion's Arab translator--warned them they would be viewed with suspicion until the attacks stopped."

Unable to capture resistance fighters, the U.S. military is falling back on the traditional tactics used by occupiers--from the Nazis in Europe to the Israelis in Palestine--they threaten the people, hoping their overwhelming power and brutality will terrify any supporters of resistance.

And, like occupiers before him, Lt. Col. Mark understands well that it may not work. "There's always the risk of alienating an entire town by blundering in there," he said.

And, in fact, even while "Sidewinder" was underway, a wave of attacks hit the U.S. forces across Iraq, apparently timed for July 4.

Meanwhile, there are increasing reports documenting the intense brutality used by U.S. forces against those they round up. Amnesty International wrote in a June 30 report: "The conditions of detention Iraqis are held under at the Camp Cropper Center at Baghdad International Airport--now a U.S. base--and at Abu Ghraib Prison may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, banned by international law."

News reports, including in the New York Times , have documented how during the U.S. raids on Iraqi, civilians are tightly cuffed, hooded, denied water and forced to kneel painfully for hours, and even days. Many report being beaten and tortured. Many are seized and taken away--without charges, without notifying relatives where they are, and simply held for weeks and even months under brutal conditions.

When prisoners protested their detention, U.S. guards opened fire above their heads, and in one case shot a prisoner to death. Amnesty International is reporting the military detention of an 11-year-old boy for three weeks.

The Associated Press reported the treatment of Khraisan al-Abally, a 39-year-old Iraqi businessman who was seized at home on April 30--after soldiers shot his brother to death. He described how he was forced to kneel naked and forbidden to sleep. Al-Abally said that during eight days of interrogation "he was bound and blindfolded, he was kicked, forced to stare at a strobe light and blasted with `very loud rubbish music.' "

" `I thought I was going to lose my mind,' said al-Abally.... They said, `I want you on your knees.' After three or four days it's very painful. My knees were bleeding and swollen."

There are widespread reports of U.S. troops taking cash and valuables from Iraqis during raids.

Getting in Deeper

"This idea that we will be in just as long as we need to and not a day more--we've got to get over that rhetoric. It is rubbish. We're going to be there a long time. We must reorganize our military to be there a long time.''

Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

"We're waist deep in the Big MuddyAnd the big fool says to push on."

Pete Seeger, 1967, as Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam War

Time magazine, which has strongly supported the war, wrote in a recent cover story: "Despite the President's bluster, Bush administration officials are privately worried that U.S. forces are caught in a dangerous loop. The persistence of attacks has forced the U.S. to remain on a combat footing, which has diverted attention and resources away from the reconstruction effort. The heavy military footprint, in turn, has soured Iraqi opinion and created a more hospitable climate for anti-American agitators."

Rumsfeld and his generals officially insist they can hold U.S. troop levels at 150,000, which is three times the force of 50,000 that they previously said would be needed for occupation. And, at the same time, there are increasing leaks from military planners and generals in Iraq itself suggesting that even more forces will be sent in.

The Washington Post reports (July 7): "There is even some quiet worry at the Pentagon, where some officers contend privately that the size of the U.S. deployment in Iraq--now about 150,000 troops--is inadequate for force protection, much less for peacekeeping. The Army staff is reexamining force requirements and looking again at the numbers generated in the months before the war, said a senior officer who asked not to be named. `If you talk to the guys in Iraq, they will tell you that it's urban combat over there,' the officer said. `They all are saying, `What we have is not enough to keep the peace.' "

A spokesman for the Army's Field Support Command has announced that the military contractor Kellogg Brown & Root--famous for constructing U.S. military facilities in the Vietnam War--will be building permanent housing for at least 100,000 U.S. troops at about 20 bases across Iraq. These will not be moveable tent cities but permanent barracks built of wood.

Realities Sinking In

"The Army now has more than half of its 10-division active duty force assigned to Iraq. There is the equivalent of another division deployed in Afghanistan, and two to three are typically kept in reserve for a potential confrontation with North Korea. And, because the Army likes to keep three or four divisions training and preparing to eventually replace each division in action, the Pentagon at the moment has no troops to replace many of those on extended deployments in Iraq."

Washington Post , July 3

"I want my husband home. I am so on edge. When they first left, I thought yeah, this will be bad, but war is what they trained for. But they are not fighting a war. They are not doing what they trained for. They have become police in a place they're not welcome."

Luisa Leija, wife of an artillery captain in Iraq New York Times, July 4, 2003

"It pisses everyone off, we were told once the war was over we'd leave when our replacements get here. Well, our replacements got here and we're still here."

Corporal Michael Richardson, 3rd U.S. Infantry Division, Bravo Company

"We're more angry at the generals who are making these decisions and who never hit the ground, and who don't get shot at or have to look at the bloody bodies and the burnt-out bodies, and the dead babies and all that kinda stuff."

Unnamed soldier, 3rd U.S. Infantry Division, Bravo Company

"U.S. officials need to get our asses out of here. I say that seriously. We have no business being here. We will not change the culture they have in Iraq, in Baghdad. All we are here is potential people to be killed and sitting ducks."

43-year-old reservist from Pittsburgh, 307th Military Police Company, Washington Post, July 1st, 2003

They were told they would be liberators. They were told they would be going home quickly as heroes. And with each passing day, it has become clearer to U.S. soldiers in Iraq that they are still at war, and they are seen as enemies by huge parts of Iraq's population. And it is becoming clear that many of them may remain there for a long time.

Under the hard conditions of Iraqi summer and the intense pressure of a mounting insurgency, U.S. soldiers are starting to question why they are in Iraq and when they will get to leave.

The Christian Science Monitor printed excerpts from letters written by soldiers to congressmen. One letter said: "Most soldiers would empty their bank accounts just for a plane ticket home." Another said: "The way we have been treated and the continuous lies told to our families back home has devastated us all." An officer wrote, "Make no mistake, the level of morale for most soldiers that I've seen has hit rock bottom." Another officer described the rising tensions among soldiers within his unit: "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]."

There are even reports of suicide among the soldiers--disguised as "non-hostile gunshot incident" in the Pentagon reports.

The New York Times reported (July 4): "Military families, so often the ones to put a cheery face on war, are growing vocal... Frustrations became so bad recently at Fort Stewart, Georgia that a colonel, meeting with 800 seething spouses, most of them wives, had to be escorted from the session. `They were crying, cussing, yelling and screaming for their men to come back,' said Lucia Braxton, director of community services at Fort Stewart."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497

http://rwor.org - Revolutionary Worker Online
http://rwor.org/resistance -RW resource page on resisting the juggernaut of war and repression
http://2changetheworld.info - Discuss revolutionary strategy and the RCP's Draft Programme