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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Two years of American occupation of Iraq: a dismal scorecard

By Karamatullah K. Ghori

March 19 marked the second anniversary of U.S. invasion, and subsequent occupation, of Iraq. But the date, this year, passed almost unnoticed in the U.S. itself, as well as overseas.

The absence of fanfare and jubilation in the Bush camp has markedly to do with the fact that the Bush adventure in Iraq is going nowhere. Two years down the road from the day the imperialist forces unleashed their wrath against a country that had done precious little to invite the most ferocious military juggernaut of our age to the banks of Tigris and the Euphrates, the war scorecard has hardly any plus points on it. Even a known warmonger like Donald Rumsfeld, who boasted of a lightning strike-quick in and quick out-by 'the finest army in the world' has had his balloon punctured. He, too didn't have the face to show up before the news media to dish out any more inanities on the Iraqi situation.

On the minus-side of Bush's horrific blunder, the cost in terms of men and money is climbing at a rate that the critics of war think is fast becoming unbearable for the world's largest economy.

In terms of death toll to the invading forces, at least 1600 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the two years of invasion and subsequent occupation, according to the figures officially approved by an increasingly secretive Pentagon. The unofficial casualty toll puts the number at more than four times this figure.

The death toll of the American soldiers is besides the maiming and horrible disfiguring of tens of thousands of American servicemen injured in two years of continued American military presence in Iraq. The Pentagon doesn't feel any responsibility towards these 'war veterans.'

Of course, hardly anybody in America feels morally concerned about the toll that a brazen war imposed on them has exacted so far from the Iraqi people. Even the most conservative count puts the Iraqi civilian losses-men, women and children-in the two years of a brutal and vengeful U.S. military occupation at 100,000, at the very least. The trigger-happy U.S. soldiers have been pursuing a policy of 'shooting-first-and asking questions-later'. Those Iraqis injured in almost daily occurrence of dastardly incidents of violence are not included in any assessment of the cost of American occupation to its hapless victims.

The economic cost of the Bush adventure in Iraq is also in a state of free fall. The two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have, to date, cost the U.S. Treasury more than $ 300 billion. Iraq alone is costing nearly 5 billion dollars a month, and Bush, fresh in his second term, has asked Congress for a fresh injection of another $ 82 billion in his war effort to 'make America safe' against terrorism.
To the protagonists of war in Iraq-and anywhere else that Bush, the imperialist, might cast his net next, all this cost-both in men and money-is worth the cause that the neo cons have taken upon themselves, entirely off their own bat. These apologists of war believe that the U.S. economy has enough cushion and room to bear the cost without any major impact on its resilience.

To the warmongers and advocates of a 'robust America', any comparisons with Vietnam are fatuous and unrealistic.

They may have a point there, in the immediate space and sense of time. The Iraqi adventure is, as yet, only two years old, whereas the madness of Vietnam went on for at least twelve years. It may also be comforting to the war lobbyists that the daily death toll in Iraq, as of now, is only two U.S. soldiers a day, whilst it was in hundreds at the peak of the Vietnam War.

But that is precisely where the debate to draw parallels with Vietnam and derive comfort that Iraq is nowhere as bloody or costly as Vietnam was at its peak loses all steam for the warmongers. The Iraqi imbroglio is not at its peak yet. And who knows what would it be like two or three years hence, if the purveyors of U.S. military adventures abroad continued to travel their road of doom and depravity? It is quite likely that when the peak in Iraq is reached it may be far, far, worse than Vietnam.

For the votaries of neo-imperialism it may be of comfort to know that in the years since the end of the Vietnam War, the moral compass of U.S. has deviated a great deal from the course that triggered such a massive backlash against Vietnam. The U.S. of today is devoid of that moral fibre that knit together the nation-wide wave of protest. The neo con philosophy has taken a firm grip over American people, so much so that out of a population of 285 million, the hawkish evangelicals boast of a solid following of 55 million Americans.

The most noticeable change that has come in the American landscape is that the independence of the news media of the 60s and 70s has been largely, if not totally, snuffed out by the current neo conservative and imperialist ownership of the media. The American people have lost access to, and awareness of, independent sources of news that was largely the base material for the success of the anti-war movement in the 60s and 70s.

But even the latest battle cry of the neo cons and their votaries that they are in Iraq to bless and baptize the birth of democracy in that land is getting bogged down.

The January 30 general elections in Iraq have been regularly touted by Bush and his acolytes as the dawn of a democratic era in Iraq. They pride themselves for having ushered in a new age in a land where autocrats like Saddam had ruled with impunity before. However, their great experiment in taking the Arab camel to the waters of democracy seems stuck in a bog of their making; the camel, as yet, refuses to drink the magic water.

The Iraqi electors, in both the south and in the north have, no doubt, welcomed the opportunity to express their political will freely. The Shiias of southern Iraq and the Kurds of northern Iraq-both oppressed and targeted by Saddam and the Baathists-see in the dawn of democracy a first-ever opportunity to take control of their political fortunes denied them consistently over the past 8 decades. But their efforts to form a government have been stymied, not because of lack of effort on their part, but due to the dishonest system of weightage for the Kurds built into the transitional law by Bush's erstwhile Iraqi viceroy, Paul Bremer.

The Americans knew, from day one of their occupation of Iraq, that in any free and democratic dispensation, the majority Shiias will be the dominant political class and should form government according to the universal standard of democracy in the world. 

However, because they never trusted the Shiias-nor do they now-they deliberately set about to muddy the waters. Bremer's transitional law, promulgated during his viceroyalty, laid down that any government in democratic Iraq must have the approval of two-thirds of the parliament. The result of it is that although the Shiias have captured 51 per cent of the total vote, and have more than 140 seats in a house of 275, they cannot form a government on their own without the support of the Kurds, America's favourite political group in Iraq. The Kurds have, thus, been given the monopoly that they could otherwise never have in a truly democratic polity in Iraq. Their political masters have bestowed on them a veto they don't deserve.

The price the Kurds are demanding for their co-operation in the new political process may be too stiff for the majority to accommodate. The Kurds are not only insisting on their presidency-which may not be such a bad thing-but also on the cession of Kirkuk, the main oil producing region of northern Iraq, to their part of the Iraqi Federation. The latter demand will be hard for both Shiias and Sunnis to stomach. 

Even if the Shiias and the Kurds succeed in sinking their differences for the sake of unity, a government without a good sprinkling of Sunnis in it would still be a wobbly one. Which wouldn't be ideal for a country saddled with what the American occupiers insist on calling an "insurgency". 

Which raises the larger question, what is the long- term interest of U.S. in Iraq? Does it want a genuine evolution of democracy in Iraq making it a beacon of hope for the rest of the region, especially the Arab part of it? Or does it simply intend to use democracy in Iraq as a convenient foil to camouflage its real interest in Iraq and the Arab world, i.e. to make the region sub-ordinate to the security and expansionism of its most trusted ally, Israel and give the Zionist entity a free hand to fashion its contours to gel with Israeli master plan for the ME.

The latest Bush manoeuvres and shenanigans against Iran and Syria leave hardly any room of doubt that it is the Israeli tail wagging the dog. Ariel Sharon has hammered the Palestinian situation entirely to his satisfaction and comfort level, since the demise of Yasser Arafat. However, Syria had been a thorn in his side for long. So he has contrived an ingenious scheme to force Syria to come to heel. The brutal murder of Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri did precisely that. Putting the blame for this heinous crime on Syria killed more than one bird with that one stone: it has forced Syria on the defensive and taken its troops out of any reckoning in Lebanon.

Now a sinister ploy seems apparently in the works to re-create the political ambience that preceded the 15-year-long civil war in Lebanon, from 1975 to 1990. The purpose is to pit Syria's ally in Lebanon, Hizbollah, against the Maronite Christians and the Sunnis of Lebanon. Anarchy in Lebanon would destabilize the country and make it easy picking for Israel.

At the same time, a de-fanged Syria would be easy to exploit and intimidate: at the very least, Bashar Al Assad, weakened and demoralized, will have no political will to insist that Israel vacate the Golan Heights seized from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Weakening and humiliating Syria is also part of the larger design to subdue Iran, whose nuclear ambition is now being touted as another red herring to clad Bush's imperialist agenda in the Gulf region. The Americans are in Iraq as much for the sake of its oil as to make the entire region a free operating zone for the Greater Israel ambition of the Zionists in both U.S. and Israel. Cutting Iran to size, in the guise of defusing its alleged nuclear programme, is the cutting edge of that expansionist agenda. It will be a reprise of the chessboard arranged before thrusting an invasion on Iraq.

The American military presence in Iraq is not entirely to make it a vassal of American strategic interests in the region; it is equally to use Iraq as a beach-head for further military forays in the Gulf and beyond.

The bottom line is that the real Bush agenda for Iraq is not what he says it is. Keeping Iraq in turmoil and constantly consumed by political brinkmanship gives Bush a perfect alibi to keep his troops there indefinitely. It is for this reason that nobody in the administration-not even those claiming to speak for non-partisans-is talking of a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. They are there for keeps, even though the so-called alliance Bush hammered out with bribes and inducements is crumbling around him. Italy is the latest to announce its decision to pull its troops out of Iraq beginning in September.

But what Bush and his neo con votaries don't seem to realize is that any attempt to short-change the majority in Iraq of its political dues would lead to an outcome that the American imperialists least wish to see: an unwitting closing of ranks between the Shiias of Iraq and Iran. That may well be a blessing in disguise for the region currently in thrall to an imperialist and out- o- control expansionist power.

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