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Eye of the Hurricane of War in Iraq

by David Hungerford |
February 12, 2008
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The Bush administration has changed its strategy in Iraq. Previously the occupation relied on Kurdish and Shiite militias to keep a grip. Now it has added Sunni militias called ‘Awakening Councils’ (al-Sahwa) and ‘Concerned Local Citizens’ (CLCs) to the mix. It is a fateful step.

The change has brought some lessening of attacks on occupation troops. A turn toward Sunni/Shiite/Kurdish partition of Iraq is strongly evident. Nonetheless the change only ratifies the failure of all previous occupation policies. It solves no old problems of the occupation and presents many new ones.

From the beginning of the occupation in April of 2003 the people of Iraq raised a powerful resistance against the U.S. and British invaders. To hang on, the occupiers resorted to a divide and rule strategy.

The occupation put together a disreputable lineup of Shiite and Kurdish parties, all with their own militias, and called it a ‘government.’ The ‘security services’ of the puppet government are largely made up of the collaborator militias. The aim was to set Shiite against Sunni, Kurd against Arab and so on.

The results have been murderous sectarian and ethnic cleansing, massacres, roundups and imprisonment of thousands of people accused of resistance and rampant death squad murders by the so-called ‘government security services.’ Even so, the people’s national resistance made it impossible for the collaborators to govern more than the Green Zone fortress in downtown Baghdad.

Reliance on Shiite sectarian parties and militias meant the occupation had limited ability to employ collaborators among the Sunni Muslims of Iraq. Instead most of the atrocities were directed against Sunnis. Accordingly, the national resistance has been passed off as a ‘Sunni insurgency.’ The mayhem is termed a ‘sectarian civil war’ in which the occupation is no more than an innocent bystander caught in the middle, trying to save the savage Iraqis from one another.

Over a million have died. Two million have been driven out of the country and another two million are displaced internally. The food rationing system instituted by the Iraqi government in the 1990s has been drastically cut back. Four million face starvation. Only the oil industry, with its revenues going to the occupation, is anywhere near the pre-occupation level of output.

As a result, resistance attacks on occupation troops grew more and more numerous. Fatalities and wounds among occupation troops are in the tens of thousands, while the survivors grow ever more demoralized and exhausted. Smaller occupation allies like Spain and Poland have withdrawn their troops and now even the British are on their way out.

The Shiite sectarian parties have no unity among themselves. Two of them, Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement and the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (ISCI), have been fighting for control of the south for almost a year! Also, the Kurdish parties in the occupation ‘government’ have a long history of fighting each other.

In sum, Bush is in a catastrophic predicament. He resorts to a number of scams to hide it.

Success of the ‘Troop Surge’: a Deception

Bush and his supporters claim his ‘troop surge’ is a success. More troops have brought stability and progress toward victory, it is said. Facts show otherwise.

The Washington-based Brookings Institution publishes monthly graphical summaries of military attacks in Iraq. The numbers come from the U.S. military and cannot be verified from other sources. The most recent data goes up to September of 2007. The chart shows that in September of 2006 there were about 3200 attacks on ‘coalition forces,’ i.e., occupation troops. In September of 2007 the number given is slightly above 2000, about 63% of the number 12 months earlier.

To claim success because by your own account you were only attacked 2000 times is ludicrous. Still, the lower rate of attacks is significant. However, there is no evidence the ‘surge’ has anything to do with it. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. commander of operations in Iraq, says something different: reconciliation with those he describes as “onetime Sunni fighters” represents the “primary driver of enhanced security.” (U.S. Shifts Sunni Strategy in Iraq, LA Times, Jan. 14, 2008)

Odierno is talking about the Awakening Councils and CLCs. There are said to be 70,000 persons in these militias and they are paid $300 per month - a lot of money in today's Iraq.

Sheikh Harith al-Dhari is a spokesman of the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq (AMSI,) which espouses the national resistance cause. In a Dec. 18, 2007 interview with Al Jazeera he said, “The al-Sahwa phenomenon has been presented to the people as ‘tribal forces fighting al-Qaeda.’ But as they are U.S.-funded, the tribesmen have been instructed to fight the Iraqi resistance as well. That is why resistance attacks against U.S. forces have eased a bit.” He also said, “I think the resistance has chosen to back off and not engage al-Sahwa militias to avoid internecine fighting. They are regrouping now and for sure will bounce back.”

The imperialists meanwhile use ever more violence against the Iraqi people. For example the U.S. military says it dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs in the first ten minutes of a Jan. 10 assault on the town of Arab Jabour on the southern outskirts of Baghdad. Residents say many civilians are feared dead. 40 houses and the main road were destroyed. The imperialists will only arouse even greater hatred and resistance among the people. Their own actions give the lie to their talk of ‘improved security.’

The ‘Awakenings’ and al Qaeda: only a Small Part of the Picture

The official story is that the occupation only recently turned to former Sunni ‘insurgents’ to fight al Qaeda. There is much more to it.

First, as Dhari said, the Awakenings fight the national resistance, not just al Qaeda. Further, while the allegation that the Awakenings are composed of ‘former insurgents’ is unverified, the intent to arouse mistrust of and divisions among resistance forces is clear.

Most independent observers say that Al Qaeda is only a small part of the overall resistance. The difference between the national resistance and al Qaeda is basic. The national resistance fights to restore Iraq’s independence and sovereignty. Al Qaeda opposes Iraqi nationalism and proclaims instead the goal of divine rule on earth.

The New York Times reports that the Awakenings were born, “nearly two years ago in Iraq’s western deserts.” (Attacks Imperil U.S.-Backed Militias in Iraq, Jan. 24, 2008) The story also says four-fifths of the members are Sunnis, not all.

Another discrepancy is that the LA Times story cited above says of Odierno that the Awakenings are “a shift in the commander’s intent.” It’s absurd to say a decision as politically consequential would be left to a field commander.

Further, not all of the new militias, Sunni or not, are Awakenings. The Concerned Local Citizens groups are distinct.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a ‘counterterrorism’ expert based in Washington, says, “Concerned Local Citizens is the name of a program initiated by the U.S. military that authorizes the formation of paramilitary organizations…The Awakening movement is registered under the CLC’s program, but the two are not completely coterminous.” He adds that many CLC leaders have no Awakening affiliation. Hence the Awakenings are only part of a broader policy initiative.

It is clear that the Sunni militia option has been under consideration for some time but has only recently been systematically implemented. It is not a tactical, improvisational or field command decision.

A Further Step into Defeat for the Occupation

Given that the Shiite sectarians already fight among themselves the additional Sunni militias can only multiply the conflicts. As to be expected they are under attack from Al Qaeda, but the New York Times article cited above says they are already in conflict with Shiite factions in the puppet government: “Both Sunni and Shiite officials in Baghdad blame two government-linked Shiite paramilitary forces for some of the attacks: the Mahdi Army [of al-Sadr] and the Badr Organization [the ISCI militia].”

Occupation officials are very worried. The New York Times quotes an unnamed U.S. official: “There’s a recognition that sustained attacks cannot continue…We’ve got to break that.”

Like the Shiite and Kurdish militias, the aims of the Sunni militias are frequently at odds with those of the occupation. One of the militiamen, Omar Abbas, 23, is quoted as saying that the Badr Brigade of the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq is the worst threat, and Sadr’s Mahdi Army is the next worst.

A Jan. 21 article in the Iraqi newspaper Azzaman reported on fighting against puppet troops in Basra, Nasiriya and Diwaniya. It included the intriguing statement that, while some sources attributed the attacks to Islamic fundamentalists, “other sources close to the government say [the attackers] are former Baathists and supporters of the former leader Saddam Hussein.”

One reason the occupation turned to the Sunni militias is to counter the influence Iran gains through the Shiite parties; but perhaps the ability of the Shiite sectarians to keep down the resistance has been countered also. The implications for partition are likewise highly problematic - Turkey, with a large and discontented Kurdish population of its own is bitterly opposed to the creation of an autonomous Kurdish zone in northern Iraq, and well able to make its opposition felt.

The Washington Post quotes First Sgt. Richard Meiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division as having got something exactly right: “We’re paying them not to blow us up. It looks good right now, but what happens when the money stops?”

The best move the occupation could make with the Sunni militias would be to enroll them in the puppet ‘security forces.’ The problem is the sectarian and ethnic militias are too deeply soaked in the blood of their crimes. While the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq is in favor of enrollment, the other Shiite factions are not. There is almost no chance it will happen.

It will not be long before the contradictions overwhelm what little temporary advantage the occupation has gained from the Awakenings and the Concerned Local Citizens. The Iraqi resistance has met the occupation from the first with courage, resolution, resourcefulness and intelligence. At every stage it has been the decisive factor in the war. There is every reason to think it still is. The Iraqi people will surely find the means to solve this latest problem before them.