Robert Nicholas explains the realities of Rudd’s “withdrawal” from the occupation of Iraq and the new US bid for ongoing control of the region.
ON JUNE 28 Kevin Rudd will attend a parade in the streets of Brisbane to welcome the 550 Australian soldiers recently withdrawn from Iraq. The parade forms part of a broader attempt to establish that Australian troops have done a “good job” in Iraq, masking both the bloody realities of the war and substantial, continuing Australian involvement.
Since the US troop “surge” which began in early 2007, political leaders and the mainstream media have pushed the idea of a “relative calm” across the country. However, as Australian troops parade, Iraqis will continue to suffer under a siege taking place in Baghdad’s Sadr city which has already killed over 800 people, the imposition of “security accords” that allow the establishment of 400 permanent US military bases in Iraq and relentless bombing raids.
As the US continues to lose on the ground they have, as in Vietnam, increased destruction from above, with aerial bombardments increasing 500 per cent through 2007. The real story of the occupation is one of escalating violence from occupying forces, continuous attempts to divide Iraq along sectarian lines and a suffering population growing increasingly restless.
Close to 1000 Australian military personnel will continue to participate in this brutal occupation including running “surveillance aircraft” to map out bomb targets despite the claimed withdrawal of combat forces.
Assault on the Mehdi Army
The current siege of Sadr City began in the aftermath of a failed assault on the southern city of Basra by the US and the Iraqi government. The Basra operation attempted to crush resistance to the occupation there, led by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army.
On March 28, the occupation’s major assault was repelled by a mass uprising across Southern Iraq and refusals to fight and defections by Iraqi police and soldiers. The Association of Muslim Scholars, the mainstream political front for the Sunni based resistance groups, pledged support for the rebellion, showing that resistance to occupation can overcome sectarianism.
The fighting stopped after aides of Iraq’s president Maliki succeeded in negotiating a ceasefire with al-Sadr via Iran on March 31. This came despite Maliki pledging “no negotiations” six days previously. The Basra assault was a major defeat for the puppet Maliki government as they were forced to drop demands that al-Sadr’s forces disarm, leaving them relatively intact. Izzat al-Shahbander, a pro-occupation Iraqi MP, admitted to the Reuters news agency, “What has happened has weakened the government and shown the weakness of the state. Now the capability of the state to control Iraq is open to question.”
Occupation forces then turned their attention to Sadr City, the major stronghold of the Mehdi army and home to 2.5 million Iraqis.
Sadr City has been completely cut off from the rest of Iraq. The siege is aimed at economically strangling the area, an act of collective punishment against all residents. Already comparisons have been made with Israeli attempt to strangle Gaza. The US is now in the process of erecting a two-mile concrete wall that will separate the southern quarter’s Thawra and Jamila districts from the rest of the city. What cannot be defeated, they will attempt to imprison.
On April 23, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that the siege caused hospitals to run out of basic necessities such as dressings and anaesthetics. The destruction of the central market has precipitated a food shortage.
The siege is accompanied by consistent US bombing runs aimed at the most densely populated area in Iraq. In the latest incident, US warplanes leveled a five story apartment block and a hospital, killing an untold number of civilians. Despite the barrage, only a small southern section of the city was under control of the occupation forces.
But in late May, al Sadr announced a cease-fire with the Iraqi government which has since poured thousands of troops into Sadr City as the Mehdi Army withdrew armed fighters from the streets although it did not disarm. The Iraqi government forces have been carrying out raids against offices of the Mehdi Army and have even fired into crowds outside mosques. It remains to be seen if al-Sadr, who has also technically held to a ceasefire with occupation forces since August 2007, will be forced to unleash the Mehdi Army against these attacks.
While al Sadr retains mass popular support, the formal truce has thrown a lifeline to a Maliki government, which has staked its future on crushing the resistance. Maliki has threatened to ban political forces with militias from contesting the October provincial elections.
US and Iraqi Government forces have two aims in attacking the stronghold of al-Sadr’s movement. With the elections coming up, the attacks on Sadr City and Basra are an attempt to smash al-Sadr. His popular appeal among downtrodden Iraqi Shi’ites threatens to unseat the joint dominance of Maliki’s Dawa party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (both of which favour the continued presence of American troops) in the October elections.
Al-Sadr has always been outspoken in his demand the occupation come to an end. The uprising in support of the Mehdi Army after the attack on Basra shows the mass appeal al-Sadr has, as the only credible anti-occupation figure in the Shia religious establishment.
The US is also trying to secure the “green zone” in Baghdad. In April alone over 700 rockets and mortars were fired into the green zone. The US must stop these attacks from the resistance if their new plan for the zone can proceed.
Now re-branded the “international zone”, it is to be packed with luxury hotels and offices, surrounded by a 15 foot concrete barrier, razor wire and armed troops. This will further cement it as a permanent US base, fitting with George Bush’s new plans for Iraq.
The New US Plans
George Bush has revealed plans to impose new “security accords” on Iraq that exposes the myth of Iraqi sovereignty. The secret treaty known as known as the Status of Forces Agreement has even has the puppet Iraqi Government and other pro-occupation forces balking.Tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in early June as the “provisions” were leaked to the Arabic newspaper, Al- Hayat.
Bush wants to establish 400 permanent bases that will exist for the next 15-20 years. Included in the treaty is the right for the US to launch wars on “third countries” from Iraqi soil.
The treaty entrenches immunity for US troops and the mercenary contractors operating in Iraq. All deals and undertakings for reconstruction contracts negotiated since the occupation began will become null and void, clearing the way the way for a US monopoly over the economy. Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is due to sign the accords before the end of July.
However, the US has underestimated the resistance it will face to the new accords. Moqtada al-Sadr has described the accords as “a project of humiliation” and the Association of Muslim Scholars, described the accords as total “military, economic and cultural domination” of the country.
Significant pro-occupation figures have also come out against Bush’s new plans with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest Shia Muslim authority in Iraq saying he would not allow Iraq to sign such an accord “as long as he was alive”. Faced with growing resistance, US ambassador Ryan Crocker threatened to strip Iraq’s puppet government of any authority if the accords weren’t rubber stamped.
The Rudd Labor government remains a key ally in the US plans for endless war in Iraq and their broader imperial goals in the Middle East. The brutality of this war will continue to breed strong resistance movements and a permanent state of crisis.
Building support for those resisting occupation and resisting the propaganda offensive about the “good job” our troops have done in Iraq remains a key task for activists fighting to expose the realities of Rudd’s continued support for this disastrous occupation.