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Iraq Now Oh Good, Then the War's Over?

Iraq Now

by RON JACOBS

Great news!! The Iraqis will be running their own country by June 2004. Once again, the mission will be accomplished. It must be time to celebrate. George Bush can be elected president and continue his holy mission to make the world a safer place. Yay! As the saying goes, if you believe this, then there’s a bridge I know of that’s for sale.

This latest pronouncement from the Bush administration regarding the situation in Iraq is not only insulting to Americans, it illustrates to the world that the US continues to operate on the assumption that the Iraqi people are either stupid or naive. If the US policy isn’t based on this assumption, then why the hell does it continue to insult their intelligence? After all, even a cursory glance of history shows that the US is extremely unlikely (like it ain’t gonna’ happen) to allow a truly independent Iraq to exist any time soon. Those headlines about Iraqi transfer of power are just one more strand in the web of deception that Washington has spun to maintain its war over there.

Besides the fact that the so-called transfer is timed to occur during the stretch run in the US presidential race, there is other, more ominous fine print in administration statements regarding the change in faces scheduled to take place in Baghdad next summer. Foremost among that fine print is the insistence that the US military is not going anywhere. It is staying put. In fact, according to Bush and Rumsfeld, the troops could well be there for many more years, with their numbers increased. Even if the nominal command of those troops shifts to another body (say the UN or NATO), the fact remains that it is the US military that will be propping up the new Iraqi "government."

If this is the case, then what would a transfer of power from the occupation authority to an Iraqi council really mean? One need only look to America’s other current war to get a glimpse at the answer to this question. You know-Afghanistan-where the women were freed from religious extremist persecution and everybody’s safe and living a nice comfortable life thanks to the bombardment of their country for a few weeks by the US Air Force. Afghanistan-where democracy flourishes and peace is prevalent, thanks to those wonderful folks in the US Special Forces. Yeh, Afghanistan-where the US soldiers are greeted with flowers and feasts and never have to use their weapons. Anyhow, you get my point: no matter what some Iraqis might hope, the "transfer of power" being promised to them by the United States is a sham. It will mean very little on the ground, except in that it could pave the way for a civil war as those who want the US out wage war against those who throw their lot in with the Americans.

Speaking of the latter, check out who is on record as looking forward to the transfer: Ahmed Chalabi and Jalal Talabani. Both of these men are beholden to the US and its military and intelligence agencies for their prominence in post-Saddam Iraq. Although they have differences with the US (mostly over who gets what portion of the monies involved in Iraq’s post-invasion reality), these men and the groups they represent owe their continued existence to CIA and Pentagon funds. Consequently, they see the metamorphosis from an overt occupation authority to a proxy US government with Iraqi faces to be to their benefit. This is because they stand a very good chance of being powerful figures in that puppet regime.

Let’s go back further though. Before Afghanistan to Vietnam. While not a model that Washington likes to point to, there are some parallels between that country’s history and the governing structure being proposed for Iraq. After taking over the war against the liberation forces from the French in the mid-1950s, the US set up a proxy regime in the southern half of Vietnam and created the country of South Vietnam. Populated largely by Catholics beholden to the imperial powers, the South Vietnamese government existed solely because it was propped up by American money and its military. Any elections that it won-elections that were vain attempts by the US to provide the regime some legitimacy in the world-were rigged by the CIA and its cohorts and made very little difference to the insurgency against it or the population that supported that insurgency. These insurgents were popular among the population and existed in true guerrilla fashion like "fish in the sea."

In short, the scenario in South Vietnam looked like this: the US proxy regime in Saigon was composed of Vietnamese with financial, cultural and sociological ties to the west (France, then the United States). These individuals served at the whim of the leadership in DC, which is why the CIA allowed/assisted in the coup that killed South Vietnamese president Diem in 1963, when he refused to follow the US game plan for the region. In addition, the regime itself existed only because of the incredible amounts of money pumped into it by US taxpayers. As for the South Vietnamese military (ARVN), some of its members were anti-communist zealots committed to fighting the liberation forces and their communist supporters, but most of them were just men looking for a paycheck. Consequently, they left most of the fighting up to the Americans. In the end, it was the ARVN’s lack of will that contributed to the victory of the insurgency as much as the US withdrawal of its ground forces did. It can be reasonably argued that the Saigon government was doomed to failure from the start even if the US had done more than it did. Most of the southern Vietnamese people never saw it as their legitimate representative no matter who was at its head and it suffered from infiltration by the resistance throughout its tenure. The US, in its arrogance, truly believed that it could overcome not only the odds it faced from its puppet regime, but also generations of Vietnamese resistance to foreign invaders. Suffice it to say that Washington misjudged.

Let’s get back to Iraq in late 2003. The US occupation is (literally) under fire and risks losing its support even amongst those sectors of society that initially supported its presence. Simultaneously, the insurgent forces are becoming bolder and more deadly. In addition, their support amongst the civilian population continues to grow; especially now as US forces become more indiscriminate in their attacks and more civilians become casualties. Billions of US dollars are being spent to maintain the occupation and things just seem to get worse. So, what is Washington’s solution? Change the face of the occupation. Put Iraqis beholden to the US in positions of nominal power while retaining actual control of the regime. Hold elections where the results are ensured to maintain US control of the country and call the whole show a democracy. Create a national army made up of some fierce supporters of the US-built regime and thousands of Iraqis who just need a paycheck. Meanwhile, keep the US military in country and let them do the real fighting against the insurgency-an insurgency that functions like "fish in the sea." Of course, the continued US military presence will be at the "invitation" of the new "Made in the USA" regime. Despite the fact that this regime would exist at the behest of the US, some of its members might actually start pushing for their independence from Washington. If this happens, they could meet the same fate as Mr. Diem did in November 1963. Eventually, if history is any indicator, there will be some level of civil conflict between those Iraqis who depend on the US for their survival and health, and those Iraqis who want the US in all its forms out of their country. Then, the US would find itself in a familiar role fighting indigenous peoples for control of their country by claiming that the US is supporting the genuine government.

What this means in human terms is simple: more death, more destruction, and more despair. What it means in political terms is harder to predict. If the US managed somehow to defeat the insurgency, it might give Washington a few years of unchallenged domination of the Middle East. If the US is defeated by the insurgency and withdraws from the region it might mean a whole new round of popular insurgency. Or, if those people in the US opposed to the US war on Iraq made it their goal, they could mount a popular movement against the worsening situation and force a US withdrawal, thereby allowing the Iraqis the chance to truly determine their own destiny.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground.

He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu