Iraq: Saddam as a Footnote
by Derek Seidman

December 16, 2003
First Published in Left Hook

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For all intents and purposes, this weekend’s capturing of Saddam Hussein brought to an end a long and complicated relationship between the United States and the deposed leader, one ranging from conscious support for Hussein’s atrocities to a determined effort towards his removal as a barrier to US imperial ambitions. Yet behind all the sensationalism of the capture, this weekend also marked the end of a roughly two week period where several events occurred that further confirmed the true nature and dynamics of the current mission in Iraq. These are:

1. The Battle at Samarra.

2. The exclusion of France, Germany, and Russia from reconstruction contracts.

3. The scandal involving Halliburton’s overcharging on prices.

4. Mass desertion in the new Iraqi Army.

5. The confirmation that the supposed talks between the former Iraqi government and the 9/11 hijackers, already thought to be untrue, did not occur.

While snagging Saddam Hussein was indeed big news, it does little to change the trajectory and character of the occupation, which is revealed much more by the events listed above.

On November 30th a fierce battle ensued in the town of Samarra, “the biggest urban street fight in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad”. For the US, it was a display of counter-insurgency force meant to signal resolve in the face of mounting pressure over the escalation of the resistance. What it revealed were some of the dynamics involved in the conflict that are becoming intensified, dynamics that don’t bode well for the occupation forces. The Los Angeles Times writes:

“As the battle unfolded over a four-hour period Sunday, with twists and turns of fortune on each side, the U.S. soldiers realized they were up against tenacious foes using their knowledge of the cramped cityscape to maximum advantage...The engagement demonstrated at least one thing: Nearly eight months after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, anti-American insurgents are regrouping and fighting in larger numbers and more daring ways, apparently with a leadership providing coordination.” (December 2)

The Washington Post echoes:

“For the military, the fight revealed a startling new reality about the fighters themselves—unprecedented coordination and tactics and numbers yet unseen. Hollis says he saw a determination he did not expect from guerrillas best known for hitting, then running.” (December 2)

While Samarra revealed that the resistance is only growing in coordination and strength, it was also a blunder for the US in more than one way. In an effort to generate confidence in counter-insurgency efforts, the occupation forces claimed to have killed up to 54 Iraqis. This figure was adamantly denied by local residents, and its inflation is further confirmed by the fact that only 8 bodies were to be found—some of them of innocent civilians. The embarrassing gap can be understood in two ways: either the United States underestimated or lied in an effort of self-glorification, or many of the bodies were carried off by local supporters. The latter would not be surprising—it has happened elsewhere, and the violence that the occupation forces are inflicting upon Iraqi civilians (Samarra, with its reports of US troops chaotically spraying bullets in every direction, is just an example)—is fueling popular support for the resistance. Indeed, many of the shots fired by occupation troops in Samarra were met with a civilian response of bullets rather than flowers.

The revelations of Samarra were soon followed by an outbreak that we could have predicted from the get-go: the Pentagon barred French, German, and Russian companies from $18.6 billion in funds that “will pay for a total of 26 lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq's electricity, oil and water sectors and equipping its army.” (New York Times, December 10). This action, like every other deplorable thing the administration has done, was sugarcoated with the vague justification "that the actions of the American-led force in rebuilding Iraq are indispensable for national security and national defense purposes."

While the decision to exclude these countries wasn’t made with national security in mind, it was indeed the logical result of a different type of security whose attainment is precisely behind the invasion and occupation: that of obtaining an inter-imperial edge on rival superpowers in the region of prime geopolitical contention. The move to marginalize the European powerhouses can be understood in this vain:

“The new center of geopolitical competition, as they [the US elite] see it, is South-Central Eurasia, encompassing the Persian Gulf area, which possesses two-thirds of the world’s oil, the Caspian Sea basin, which has a large chunk of what’s left, and the surrounding countries of Central Asia. This is the new center of world struggle and conflict, and the Bush administration is determined that the United States shall dominate and control this critical area . . .

“The war against Iraq was intended to provide the United States with a dominant position in the Persian Gulf region, and to serve as a springboard for further conquests and assertion of power in the region. It was aimed as much, if not more, at China, Russia, and Europe as at Syria or Iran. It is part of a larger process of asserting dominant U.S. power in south-central Eurasia, in the very heartland of this mega-continent.” (Michael Klare, "The New Geopolitics", Monthly Review, July-August 2003)

As the inter-imperialist tensions from before the war roll over to the present, they are fueled by the same conflict: who will obtain hegemony in the most contested region of the world, gaining a large degree of control over the economic fate of the world? The US has not failed to stake a claim. However, with France, Germany, and Russia left out, the Iraqi people can at least take refuge in that they will have the chance to get the industrial might of such allied powerhouses as Eritrea, Rwanda, Micronesia, and Nicaragua behind the reconstruction.

US corporate motives in Iraq were further revealed a day later when it was leaked that Vice-President Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, was involved in numerous violations, including ludicrously high over-charging to the tune of $61 million, in connection with multi-billion dollar reconstruction contracts. The New York Times explains:

“The violations by a Halliburton Company subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, could involve "potentially tens of millions of dollars" in overcharging for fuel that the company is trucking into Iraq under one of two contracts, said Michael Thibault, deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency… government documents show that the United States is paying the Halliburton Company an average of $2.64 a gallon to import gasoline and other fuel to Iraq from Kuwait, more than twice what others are paying to truck in Kuwaiti fuel.”

Alas, it seems excluding rivals from the fruits of occupation is not enough for the US corporate elite. Bush vowed to hold the company accountable, saying they “should pay back the money”. The administration then showed its anger at Halliburton by punishing them with an additional $222 million dollar contract ("Halliburton Gets More Business in Iraq," Reuters, December 15)

Meanwhile, one of the US’s most pressing needs—the training of a loyal Iraqi army to ease the burden on US troops—took a huge blow when more than half of the men toted as the core of the new armed forces quit:

“KIRKUSH, Iraq, Dec. 12 -- More than half the men in the first unit to be trained for the new Iraqi army have abandoned their jobs because of low pay, inadequate training, faulty equipment, ethnic tensions and other concerns, leaving the nascent 1st Battalion dramatically understaffed just days before it is scheduled to leave training camp for its first assignment, Iraqi, U.S. and other coalition officials say.

About 480 of the 900 recruits who began training in August have left the U.S.-backed force, according to Australian Maj. Doug Cumming, chief instructor at the training academy in Kirkush, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.” (New York Times)

While it is true that the measly pay of $70 a month didn’t provide much incentive to stay, the primary factor in this mass desertion was fear of retribution from the resistance—it is doubtful that if the latter had not been targeting the new US-controlled Iraqi army and police that such an exodus would have ensued. The resistance has continued to prove its cunningness with attacks aimed at preventing the emergence of an effective infrastructure to run Iraq. While the capture of Saddam Hussein is the sensationalist highlight of the year, the bombings that occurred the same day and the day after, killing close to 30 police officers, are more telling of the real situation.

As expected, the capture of Hussein reveals no new information on Iraq’s WMDs or links with Al-Qaeda—precisely because they don’t exist. The weak case the US built for invading Iraq took a further blow this week when it was reported that the supposed secret Prague meeting between an Iraqi intelligence officer and 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta never occurred:

“A former Iraqi intelligence officer who was said to have met with the suspected leader of the Sept. 11 attacks has told American interrogators the meeting never happened, according to United States officials familiar with classified intelligence reports on the matter” (New York Times, December 12).

As some may remember, the administration posed this misinformation (which they were told by the FBI and CIA was false) as proof of an Iraqi-Al-Qaeda alliance.

Understandably, the revelation of its falseness remained in the news for about a second before fading away into the huge bin of forgotten lies, cover-ups, and falsehoods surrounding the war.

Each of the above events, from different angles, only confirms what has been saying about the Iraq venture all along. This should not be a surprise: to anyone with the will to dig into the real issues just a bit, the above outcomes are all perfectly compatible with the underlying logic of the war, the occupation, and the resistance, and thus were to be expected.

The euphoria of Saddam Hussein’s capture will last for a little while before it becomes obvious that it was relatively meaningless beyond its immediate shock value—though the Bush administration will use it to high heaven as reelection ammo. The same tensions and contradictions remain, and with Saddam out of the picture we could well see a more rapid polarization of forces vying for legitimacy. After all, the resistance is far from being composed solely of “Baathist remnants”. The right wing Washington Times reports on the leader of a resistance cell in Baghdad:

“He …said his group, which came together in reaction to the American presence in the country, does not seek the return of Saddam Hussein. If the despised dictator were to return, 'We will fight him, too.'”

Further, the actions of the occupation forces are doing nothing to discourage popular participation in the resistance. With it now being reported that the US is openly using Israeli-type occupation methods in Iraq (“wrapping entire villages in barbed wire”, “demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers”, and “imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas”), the US continues in “alienating many of the people the Americans are trying to win over”. As Tariq, an angry Iraqi, muttered out of his car window: "I see no difference between us and the Palestinians… We didn't expect anything like this after Saddam fell" (New York Times, December 6).

While it will certainly be the front page story on the news for months to come, the drama surrounding the capture of Saddam Hussein is, in reality, only a footnote in the real struggle going on between imperialism, occupation, and resistance.

Derek Seidman, 23, is a co-editer of Left Hook (www.lefthook.org) and currently lives in New York City. Holler back at him: derekseidman@yahoo.com

Other Articles by Derek Seidman

* Inequality and Work in the Global System: An Interview with Michael Yates
* A Vital Resource in the Struggle to Change the System

As the Iraqi Resistance Grows, So Does Demoralization of the Troops




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