Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Iraq and the spoils of war

Today, according to Reuters, "Iraq regained full control if its towns and cities on Tuesday as U.S. troops pulled back, six years after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein." The report states that "though some Iraqis fear the first step in a full U.S. withdrawal may leave them open to attack," the "tit-for-tat violence that brought Iraq to the brink of all-out sectarian civil war in 2006-2007 has receded" and Iraq has to "take the plunge" to prove its "fledgling democracy."

The Associated Press is more honest than Reuters when it notes that "violence is already rising and will likely continue after the handover as different factions test the government's ability to manage without American backup." In the run-up to today's withdrawal, the major news agencies were keen to report a "spike" or "surge" in violence in the country. "Bombings and shootings have killed at least 33 people in Baghdad and surrounding areas as violence intensified before a planned withdrawal next week of US troops from urban areas," according to the Press Association. Whilst on 16th June AFP told us that a "US soldier was killed and six people were wounded in violence across Iraq on Tuesday, two weeks before the scheduled American pullout from the country's urban centres."

In spite of this, the Iraqi government remains optimistic. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki called the US withdrawal as a "turning point" for the country and has made today into a public holiday with "National Sovereignty Day," according to al-Jazeera.

Looking beyond the headlines and the soundbites, it is easy to see that the picture being conjured by the media - of a benevolent U.S withdrawal after "liberating" Iraq and restoring "democracy" - is utterly false. The propaganda version of the withdrawal is built upon two major falsehoods - one, that this marks the end of the military occupation, and two, that Iraq is now an independent, sovereign nation.

The supposed end of the military occupation is based on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). But as the think-tank Foreign Policy in Focus notes;

The United States claims it’s adhering to the agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), even with so many troops being left in the cities. But the United States is changing semantics instead of policy. For example, there are no plans to transfer the 3,000 American troops stationed within Baghdad at Forward Operating Base Falcon, because commanders have determined that despite its location, it’s not within the city.

The original intent of moving troops out of the cities was to reduce the US military role and send the message to Iraqis that the United States would be leaving the country soon. But troops that are no longer sleeping in the cities will still take part in operations within Iraqi cities; they will serve in "support" and "advisory" roles, rather than combat functions. Such "reclassification" of troops as military trainers is another example of how the United States is circumventing the terms of the SOFA agreement.

The reclassification of troops as "advisors" who are "embedded" with the military in "support" roles, and the redefinition of city borders to allow military bases to continue to function, shows precisely how far the doves of the Obama administration are from the Hawks of the Bush administration. Policies are "disastrous," but basic principles never are, and thus a liberal "withdrawal" is never really anything of the sort.

Near enough the same principle applies to sovereignty. Reuters' use of the term "fledgling democracy" is interesting, as it is exactly how the brutal and repressive US client regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala were described in the 1980s. As they ratcheted up their campaign of murderous terrorism, they too were "plagued" by "insurgents" - i.e. the indigenous population struggling to regain control of their country from a foreign client regime.

The major difference is that, two decades after the United States wiped out secular Arab nationalism and fostered Islamic militancy in keeping dominance of the region out of Soviet hands, there are now more separate factions and rival foreign interests in Iraq than can be counted. This means that, beyond the Green Zone, the Iraqi government's "sovereignty" over the people is near non-existent.

What little control it does exercise, however, is quickly being sold off to the highest bidder. Without irony, even the dovish "liberal" media who opposed the war are calling the Iraqi government's sale of oil and gas fields to major transnational firms "historic." The Guardian is typical in its announcement that although "it will take a great deal of money," the sales will "reverse the decades of war, sanctions and neglect that have left Iraq's oil sector rusting, out-of-date, and unable to leverage enviable resources." The fact that the "decades of war, sanctions and neglect" were the product of western policies with the very goal of "giving oil firms a foothold in a country that may hold some of the world's largest untapped energy reserves" passes unmentioned.

We can know, then, that regardless of whatever repression the government may take to crack down on "insurgents," or how much poorer the people get as foreign investment which generates vast wealth (for corporate bodies) leaves their communities devestated, Iraq will remain a "fledgling democracy" valiantly opposing the "tit-for-tat violence" of "insurgents." Unless, of course, it falls out of favour by following the course of countries such as Venezuela and using its oil wealth to benefit its own people.