Published : Apr 09, 2004 00:00 IST

The quagmire for the United States in Iraq today is much worse than it was a year ago when it began the offensive to displace Saddam Hussein, and its own coalition is showing signs of stress and coming decay.

I AM writing these words very late on the evening of March 20, 2004, just a few hours before bombs began to fall on Baghdad on this day a year ago, in a murderous and spectacular show of American military power, which was sold to the media and the world as a campaign of "Shock and Awe" that was said to be designed to liberate Iraq from Baathist tyranny, to eliminate Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, to lead a coalition of civilised nations against terrorism, to bring democracy to the Iraqi people and indeed to the whole of West Asia, and to achieve other such noble aims.

Since then, the scale of destruction has indeed been shocking and awesome, with the Baathist regime destroyed and Hussein captured. But Iraq has witnessed not the emergence of democracy, but the imposition of a quasi-colonial rule and a reign of terror by the occupying forces, which is giving birth to a new class of the rich and the super-rich but has meant unemployment rates of 50 per cent and above, general lack of security for the populace, lack of basic requirements such as clean water, electricity and health facilities, outbreaks of a variety of diseases, and marauding criminal gangs that seem to proliferate under the very eyes of the occupation forces. Under Saddam's autocracy, brutality was the lot of those whom the regime considered its enemies, while the general populace benefited from the most advanced welfare state in the Arab East. Under the United States occupation, suffering has been generalised while favours are reserved for the collaborators alone.

Saddam Hussein has indeed been captured, though only after nine months of hiding on Iraqi soil under occupation. The Anglo-American bloc quickly announced that he would be treated as a prisoner of war and would soon be tried in an Iraqi court. But that was three months ago, in mid-December 2003. As we predicted at the time, he has been kept away from the public eye, provided neither facilities for legal defence nor the right to visits by family, friends or independent lawyers and infinitely "interrogated" with no results of these interrogations revealed publicly. And there are no modalities or dates for the trial announced yet. Salem Chalabi, the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi who has emerged as America's favourite as a ruler of the future Iraq, has been put in charge of preparing the case against Saddam, and it is said that panels of Iraqi judges are in the process of being appointed for the tribunal and the court of appeals for the planned war crimes trials not only of Saddam Hussein but also of some others. It is not clear when and where the trial shall be held. Essentially, the Americans do not really know what to do. Since Saddam was captured by them, a foreign power in Iraq, and since he is to be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, the proper place to put him on trial should be the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague. However, the Americans consider the ICC a dangerous institution because it might then try the Anglo-American bloc itself for illegal occupation of a member-country of the United Nations (U.N.), without the authorisation of the Security Council. They are also deeply dismayed by the way the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav President, is proceeding it has gone on for two years, and the court has given him the right to interrogate the prosecution and its witnesses and has also given him another two years to mount his defence. That court may just allow Saddam to call the top U.S. officials such as Donald Rumsfeld to the witness stand. Nor can the U.S. afford to have Saddam appear in an Iraqi court, day in and day out, in a trial that has the semblance of due procedure and is covered in the media. Not a single Arab regime has dared to show pleasure at Saddam's capture; his daily appearance in a court of the U.S. puppets is more than they have bargained for. Saddam in captivity is turning out to be more of an embarrassment for the U.S. than Saddam in hiding and at large.

Then, there are the daily atrocities. Every American soldier who died has been counted and honoured: there have been 536 of them, fewer during the invasion and many more during the occupation. The Anglo-American invading bloc, duly recognised by the Security Council as the sovereign occupying authority, has never counted the Iraqi dead; estimates range between 15,000 and 55,000, and about 11,000 Iraqi prisoners are held by the Americans in the largest prison that Saddam Hussein had built for his "tyranny". About 1,30,000 U.S. troops and some 30,000 troops from 34 other members of the U.N. continue to occupy Iraq illegally, while Baghdad has become the largest station that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has had anywhere in the world since the fall of the Pentagon in 1975. A symbolic withdrawal of about 20,000 is expected by the end of June this year, but 1,00,000 of the U.S. troops and the bulk of the allied ones are expected to remain more or less indefinitely, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is soon to begin top-level deliberations on the question of entering Iraq formally, alongside the Americans.

As for "democracy", L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq, acts as a Proconsul with unlimited powers, aided by the civilian counterpart of the occupying army, which calls itself the Provisional Coalition Authority (PCA) and which has in turn appointed a hand-picked 24-member Iraqi National Council (INC) headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted criminal who is wanted by the Jordanian courts which sentenced him to life imprisonment for embezzlement of $300 million. A provisional Constitution, which was drafted by the Americans, has been signed by members of the INC with much fanfare but Shia leaders, notably the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani and leaders of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, have said that this provisional Constitution will have no legitimacy until accepted by an elected National Assembly. Under this provisional Constitution, the INC is to hand over power to a new entity which too shall be "selected" from caucuses through a process in which the PCA and the INC shall have veto powers in determining who can stand as a candidate.

The INC itself can exercise no power that the Americans do not sanction, and once this non-power has been transferred from the appointed ones to the selected ones at the end of June, the U.S. shall then declare that "sovereignty" now rests in Iraqi hands. Bremer himself may then depart but the new Iraqi entity shall then "request" that the occupying military forces and their civilian counterparts remain. Nothing of substance shall change and the whole charade is getting enacted so that George Bush, who is facing elections in November, can claim that occupation has ended, "sovereignty" has been transferred and troops are beginning to come home. The ridiculous nature of this charade became quite clear when the Prime Minister-elect of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, announced that he intends to bring back Spanish troops from Iraq by the end of June when their mandate runs out and "sovereignty" is "transferred" to Iraqis. A whole range of U.S. politicians, including John Kerry, the leading Democratic presidential aspirant, urged him openly not to do so, and the Foreign Minister of Poland, which leads the European contingent in which the Spanish troops are serving, said that troops should remain in place.

Bremer had disbanded the Iraqi armed forces and police in a grand gesture of "de-Baathification", which had the incidental effect of inflicting unemployment on hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. By now, the CIA has identified 11,000 individuals who formed the core of the secret police and paramilitary apparatus of the Baathist regime and is now training them to form the core of the regime the Americans are now putting together, having satisfied itself that this change of loyalties, from the previous regime to the new one, on the part of this hand-picked personnel shall be smooth. Tens of thousands of others are also being screened and re-employed for service in police and the new army. Before the invasion, many U.S. "experts" used to say that the U.S. could easily live with the existing Iraqi regime if Saddam and his group were eliminated. A version of that is now afoot: screening, re-grouping, re-deployment of the core personnel of the previous regime in the service of the new, puppet regime of Chalabi and the rest. Which of course explains why these collaborators have now become the main targets of attack by the Iraqi Resistance.

ONE cannot say, though, that the war of occupation has entirely failed in its larger objectives. The fact that the resistance has been able to pin down 1,50,000 occupying troops while Iraq remains largely ungovernable for the PCA and the INC has of course meant that the Bush administration's dreams of quickly marching on to Damascus and Teheran have had to be given up. However, a key objective of the invasion of Iraq was to produce a "demonstration effect" for other governments in the larger region to show what could be done to them and occupation of Iraq has certainly brought them dividends elsewhere. Coupled with the economic sanctions that the U.S. Senate has imposed, this " demonstration effect" has certainly pressed Syria into compliance with the demand that it give no protection or support to the Iraqi resistance and that it substantially accede to the demands of the U.S.-Israeli axis, even to the extent of re-opening "peace talks" even as Israel continues its relentless campaign of carnage and mass murder in Palestine. Iran has not only opened up its own nuclear facilities but also recognised the U.S.-appointed Iraqi National Council, entertained Chalabi in Teheran and leaned on al-Sistani and other Iraqi Shia leaders to cooperate with the Americans. Libya has not only abandoned its own nuclear programme, but also shipped the secret blueprints and components to the U.S. while inviting the U.S. oil corporations back for exploitation of its oil resources.

The most interesting case, and one that has the largest significance for India, is that of Pakistan. Dominance over Afghanistan has been a key military and geo-political objective of Pakistan since the Americans launched their phoney jehad against the Communist government there and Pakistan emerged as the mainstay of that offensive. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, which has created such havoc inside and outside Pakistan, was assembled by the CIA at that time as an autonomous agency within the Pakistan armed forces through which the main war could be conducted. The Taliban were trained, funded, supplied and eventually foisted as an Afghan government by Pakistan, with the full collusion of the U.S. It was on the strength of their successes in Afghanistan that the Pakistan government and army came to believe that they could sponsor a jehad in Jammu and Kashmir as well and kept getting away with it for a decade or more. While Pakistan served as America's "most allied ally" for some two decades owing to the crucial U.S.-Pakistan axis in Afghanistan, Pakistan was allowed to beg, borrow, steal and buy on the black market all that it needed to build its nuclear capacity, through the macabre genius of Abdul Qadeer Khan, with full knowledge of the Americans who just turned a blind eye while they knew perfectly well of the nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and Libya.

It was only when the U.S. turned against the Taliban, and especially after the incoming Bush administration decided, well before the September 11 catastrophe, to evict them from power, through direct invasion if necessary, that Pakistani policy went into a tailspin. As the Northern Alliance was brought by the U.S. into Kabul as the new centre of power and Hamid Karzai appointed as the puppet to run Afghanistan for the Americans with the aid of key Northern Alliance commanders, Pakistan could see its entire strategic design crumbling, with eventual consequences for its ambitions in Jammu and Kashmir as well. Pakistan responded with a remarkable attempt at brinksmanship; it allowed the U.S. troops to operate on its soil but also allowed the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's outfit to regroup and resume operations on Pakistani soil. At times, it even cooperated with the Americans in the capture of low-level Taliban/Al-Qaeda functionaries, even as major Taliban commanders operated openly from Peshawar and extensively from the mountains of northern Pakistan, hoping that this double game would help pressurise the U.S. to recognise and accommodate its own interests in the region.

The bluff seems to be paying off, at least partially. As I write these lines, thousands of Pakistani troops have been deployed against the Taliban/Al-Qaeda bases in the semi-autonomous tribal region of Waziristan in northern Pakistan, in what appears to be final betrayal of its clients and as part of the larger Spring Offensive that the U.S. is now mounting in Afghanistan and the adjoining areas in Pakistan. In a remarkable statement recognising its services, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has declared that Pakistan is one of America's most important allies outside NATO. The statement is remarkable on two counts: in mentioning NATO, it emphasises the military side of the alliance with Pakistan and opens up the way for supply and sales of important weapons systems; and this description of Pakistan parallels the earlier declaration that India itself is now a "strategic ally" of the U.S. Whatever the failures of the U.S. policy in Iraq, that policy seems to be flourishing very effectively in South Asia and may well be connected with Atal Bihari Vajpayee's latest "peace offensive" and rumours of a "settlement" in Kashmir.

THE situation for the Bush-Blair duo is not quite so rosy within the imperialist heartland. This heartland can be divided for purposes into 1. the Anglo-American core and 2. continental Europe, Japan and little dependencies in Asia and elsewhere. Within the core, the main problem is that of 1. casualties (close to 600 for the U.S. and the U.K.); 2. the wide and ever-widening perception that these lives and some $200 billion have been expended in a war based on a huge pack of lies that keeps getting exposed day after day; and 3. the fear that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has done nothing to reduce, and much to increase greatly, the threat of terrorism a fear greatly increased after the recent Madrid bombings that killed 200 people, injured 1,500 and dramatically changed the result of the elections that followed a few days later. For the rest, the situation is somewhat different in the two countries.

In the U.K., the economy is strong, based largely on the strength of the Sterling, and support for the ruling Labour Party is consequently far from crumbling, and the Tories at any rate are as pro-war and pro-American as Blair himself. However, dissent from the war policies is much more vigorous and widespread within the ruling party itself, impressive and influential sections of the media are much more vigorous and persistently interrogative, political culture is itself livelier, and many more people are attuned to developments in continental Europe, so that the Franco-German reservations about the war are known better and taken much more seriously than in the U.S., and the recent events in Spain can potentially have much more explosive impact. The result is that even as there is no decline in the support for Labour as the ruling party, the personal popularity of Blair keeps going down, as the Prime Minister who took the British people into an unnecessary war, told lies to justify a war that was planned in Washington for specifically American objectives, and a war furthermore that has made London more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than it was in the past. However, in Britain, as in the U.S., there is no strong anti-war candidate who can lead either party to electoral victory and the tenure of the present Parliament does not end until 2006 anyway. So, a radical change at the level of government and government policy seems unlikely in the short run. Two possibilities are emerging now, however. One is that if Blair's personal ratings keep falling over the next few months and if his heap of lies really becomes impossible for his party to support, he may be forced to step down in someone else's favour Gordon Brown is waiting in the wings who may not have significant differences with Blair but who will then be forced to scale down the level of belligerence and adopt more "European" policies, aligning himself somewhat with France, Germany and the new Spanish government. The second possibility, which dovetails into the first, is that the recent Spanish events shall re-invigorate the opposition in Britain and Blair's position, already weak, may become altogether untenable under the impact.

In the U.S., by contrast, the economy is in a shambles and the dollar has been sliding precipitously, Bush's own lies have been exposed just as much as Blair's and even the dominant media cannot evade this fact, and the November elections are looming. However, opposition to the war designs of the Bush Administration is virtually non-existent in those sections of both the Republican and Democratic Parties, which command decisive power within the establishment, and all sections of the capitalist class are much more firmly aligned with Bush's war designs. The occupation of Iraq is ultimately about corporate plunder, the U.S. capital sees that clearly, and will not allow either party to reverse those policies to any significant degree. All the establishment forces have made sure that the virtually unchallenged and leading contender for the Democratic Party nomination as the Presidential candidate be none other than John Kerry, a cynic par excellence.

John Kerry is man who knows how to speak from each side of his mouth, according to the audience he is facing. For pro-war, militaristic audiences, he harps on the fact that he was a heavily decorated fighter in Vietnam; for audiences opposed to invasion and occupation of Iraq, he recalls that he joined the anti-war movement after returning from Vietnam. He criticises Bush for lying to the American public but rules out any withdrawal from Iraq if he were to be elected. When Spain elected a new Prime Minister who was committed to withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq by June, Kerry promptly phoned him to drop his promise and got rebuked. When the U.S. Senate passed a resolution giving Bush unlimited powers to make war, Kerry, a senior Democratic Senator, was one of the vocal supporters of that resolution and told, on his own authority, every lie that Bush had been telling. "Iraq has chemical and biological weapons," he said and claimed, against all the evidence the U.N. inspectors had amassed, that Iraq's programmes for production of such weapons were "larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War [of 1991]." He claimed that Iraq was "attempting to develop nuclear weapons," which too was rejected by the U.N. inspectors. His allegations bordered on the fantastic: "Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents, which could threaten Iraq's neighbours as well as American forces in the Persian Gulf." Every one of these lies has been nailed but neither Bush nor Kerry has come forward to apologise for telling them to a frightened American public. These are the two liars who will fight the U.S. Presidential elections in November 2004.

On the European continent, meanwhile, the situation is markedly different. The French were quick to align fully with the U.S. in the recent ouster of a democratically elected President in Haiti, but they have always perceived that the U.S. war in Iraq is against French interests and Jaques Chirac has so far been the most vocal European head of state in opposition to the U.S. policies there, in which he is greatly supported by the French public. In Germany, it is well known that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was trailing behind his rival during the elections of September 2002 and then won the elections due to his clear-cut opposition to the proposed participation of Germany in the Iraq venture. That was the first European election to be decided on the issue of Iraq. Now there has been a second one, in Spain, which has the potential of becoming a European earthquake.

Jose Maria Aznar, the Prime Minister who lost the Spanish election by a wide margin on the single issue of the Spanish troops that he had despatched to Iraq on the U.S. side, was Bush's closest ally in continental Europe. Zapatero, the Socialist Prime Minister-elect, fought a campaign on the promise of reversing that policy and scored a clear-cut victory in a voter turnout of 76 per cent. "The war in Iraq was a disaster," he has said, and "the occupation of Iraq is a disaster." In a radio interview immediately after getting elected he said, "Bush and Blair must do some reflection and self-criticism. You cannot organise a war on lies." When Kerry called him and asked that he change his policy, Zapatero replied that it was a campaign promise and "I am a man of my commitments." He has declared that he will align Spain's policies with France and Germany and will open a dialogue with those other European governments who have sent troops to Iraq, so as to obtain a general withdrawal. However, he cannot easily abandon his clear-cut assertion, time and again, that Spain has no business in Iraq unless the occupying authority is dismantled, the U.N. assumes control of that situation, and NATO itself decides to assume a direct role in Iraq something that the Americans cannot concede, even though Zapatero's position is just a more radicalised version of the Franco-German position.

Whether or not he will actually carry out his promise is yet to be seen. One can say quite confidently, though, that the balance of force in Europe has shifted. Blair's New Labour is now fully isolated from Europe's two major social democratic parties, the German and the Spanish, and is placed somewhat to the right of the French Right; Blair's only major ally in Europe now is Italy's Far Right premier, Silvio Berlusconi. Meanwhile, the hugely prestigious European Commission President Romano Prodi, who is the main opponent of Berlusconi, told the La Stampa newspaper after the recent Madrid bombings: "These terrible days have shown us that the American recipe wasn't right. On Saturday, it will be a year since the start of the war in Iraq, and the terrorist threat is today infinitely more powerful than before." Like Aznar's regime, Berlusconi's in Italy had also despatched Italian troops to buttress U.S. claims of widespread support, despite the fact that the Spanish and Italian masses were the most bitter opponents of the American war in Iraq; Florence, Rome and Barcelona were the hub of the extraordinary anti-war movement which developed in Europe before the invasion of Iraq. The Italian population too may throw out its premier when the time comes.

SPANISH elections are in a sense a combined achievement of the European anti-war movement and the persistence of the Iraqi resistance which has made the occupation so very untenable, showing it to be a classically colonial-imperialist venture. When this resistance first emerged, the U.S. tried to dismiss it as "remnants of the Baathist regime" and "Saddam loyalists". As the resistance went from strength to strength, killing the Americans and their allies as well as mounting spectacular attacks on the U.N. and the U.S. establishments in Baghdad, as well as U.S. troops across a wide swathe of territory, the U.S. started talking of a "Sunni triangle" where this resistance was said to be concentrated and tried to give it a communal character. Then the attacks spread systematically to the North and the South, far from the so-called "Sunni triangle."

The U.S. is now talking of an impending "civil war" between Shias and Sunnis, quite in the face of the fact that no one in Iraq has yet called for attacks on any religious community and hundreds have been interviewed on U.S. television itself who only talk of peace among sects and communities. Recent bombings of religious sites in Najaf and Karbala take on ominous significance in this regard. Iraqi Sunnis have no history of attacking Shias in their own country, and any "civil war" between them would be suicidal for Sunnis themselves (Shias being more than twice the size of the Sunni community) and will play into the hands of the Americans who will love to say that they are in Iraq on the civilising mission of preventing a religious bloodbath among the barbarians. And the American canard that bombings of mosques and shrines might have been carried out by Osama's men is simply preposterous; whatever else they might be, those men are much too pious to do any such thing. Sunnis and Shias may be equally killed for becoming collaborators, but a generalised attack on one community by another, in its sacred places, is impossible. We may yet be witnessing the rise of terrorist gangs organised by the occupiers themselves, to pass themselves off as part of the resistance but doing their master's bidding.

The quagmire for the U.S. in Iraq today is much worse than it was a year ago, and its own coalition is showing signs of stress and coming decay. That is the achievement primarily of the resistance that has developed in numerous corners of Iraq, within a year of the invasion.

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