Basra, Baghdad and Beyond

Last Wednesday, as new bloody conflicts raged in Baghdad, Basra and beyond, and protests spread through the Iraqi capital, reporters for the New York Times observed, ‘Some of the protesters criticized the United States – Mr. Sadr considers the Americans occupiers.’


Memo to the Times:


So, too, does the rest of people on the planet, at least those of sound mind. The idea that Iraq is not under occupation of another country is ludicrous and as has been pointed out time and time again. Most Iraqi would prefer it if the occupiers departed and left them alone. Of course that’s not true of the compliant regime in power by the grace of the occupiers, hold up as they are in the once said to be impregnable ‘Green Zone.’ Now, to demonstrate just how compliant they are they have escalated the conflict in the country to very dangerous point.


It is the logic of foreign military occupation faced with a popular insurgency that five years after invading Iraq, U.S. and British planes were at week’s end bombing Iraqi cities.


There’s a certain bridge for sale to anyone who believes that the government of Prime Minster Nuri Kamal al-Maliki undertook the attacks on opposition forces in Basra without the complicity of the Bush administration. The U.S. National Security Advisor has admitted the attack was anything but a surprise. The Christian Science Monitor said Monday that ‘contrary to initial reports, the US and Iraqi government campaign against the Mahdi Army, say officials and analysts, is a carefully coordinated effort by the US and [Moktada al] Sadr’s Shiite rivals to deal a decisive blow to the outspoken cleric.’


It is truly amazing that most of the U.S. mass media failed to draw any connection between the events in Basra and the visit to the Green Zone of U.S. Vice- President Dick Cheney (and senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman).


‘A law covering provincial elections went into effect last week after U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney strong- armed the presidency council into allowing it to pass,’ wrote Leila Fadel for the McClatchy newspaper chain last week. ‘While the Islamic Supreme Council is more powerful than Sadr is in much of the country, Sadr is much more popular among poor Shiites. Provincial elections could undercut the Supreme Council’s influence in the south, and many see the government offensive as a move to thwart Sadr’s political ambitions.’


However, the scope and the intent of the Basra attack appear to go far beyond the upcoming election. It is tied to a broader aim of the occupying power involving the region’s oil resources, the partitioning of the country and laying the basis for the occupation to stay in force for Cheney’s 100 years and beyond. ‘The Sadrists were expected to do well against ISCI in provincial elections which are to be held in October under an agreement brokered by the US Vice-President Dick Cheney during his visit to Baghdad earlier in the month,’ correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote Saturday in The Independent (UK).


Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Vice President met with Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders, and urged them ‘to speed passage of a law opening Iraq‘s enormous petroleum reserves to more efficient production by global oil companies.’ Later ‘his team’ said it was encouraged by cooperation from Kurdish leaders, ‘who sit atop a considerable portion of the country’s oil wealth and have blocked a proposed oil law’ and that Cheney was also seeking to finalize a longer-term security arrangement with Baghdad.


The spate of attacks over recent weeks on the Mahdi Army of the party of Moktada al-Sadr in and around Baghdad targeted the main Shiite nationalist force in the country, the group that has consistently opposed the continued occupation and has expressed a willingness to enlist the elements of the primarily Sunni opposition forces into an anti-occupation front. The armed assault on Basra was obviously aimed at the Sadrists but the oil workers’ trade union in the region says it was aimed at them as well. There had been hints in the foreign media that the oil workers were being targeted but predictab ly none of the U.S. journalist on the scene saw fit to mention it – just as they have stubbornly ignored the existence of Iraq unions since the occupation began.


Motivation for the Basra attacks, the unionists say, involves privatization measures opposed by the port workers, who are supported by other trade unions and the port management. ‘It is likely that the planned corporate takeover of the port is required in order to facilitate the activities of international oil companies,’ said a March 29 statement from Naftana (‘Our Oil’ in Arabic) is a UK-based committee supporting trade unionism in Iraq after being contacted by the General Union of Oil Employees in Basra. ‘Nevertheless, the scale of what was afoot was not apparent, but the link between military action and breaking trade unionism was. On March 17-18, the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, was in Baghdad meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who presently heads the attack on Basra city. Top of the agenda was the oil law and how to insure its passage. The oil law means that international oil majors will control Iraqi oil for many decades.’


‘The tide of national public opinion has turned against long-term troop deployment in both the UK and the USA, says Naftana. ‘If the war was fought for oil and total domination of Iraq, then those most closely associated to those interests must speed up their plans. The present onslaught aims to break popular resistance, especially from the Sadrist movement, to the passage of the oil law and to the occupation itself.’


Supporters of the oil workers maintain that with local elections looming next autumn, the aim of the attacks is wipe out the base of support for those opposed locally to the governing coalition of al-Maliki.


‘Many Iraqis are linking what they regard as a premeditated and unprovoked attack on a relatively peaceful city with Cheney’s visit and Washington’s insistence that the US-trained Iraqi armed forces should do more of the ground-fighting, while the occupation forces resort to air attacks and emergency support,’ wrote Sami Ramadani, a political exile from former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein’s regime and a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University in the Guardian (UK). ‘They are also linking it to the fact that oil and dock workers’ unions, declared illegal, are in full control of the ports and the major oil fields. These unions are strongly opposed to the US- backed oil law to privatize the Iraqi industry and allow the major oil companies to control production and marketing. The law is also opposed by the Sadr movement, which was expected to win a decisive victory in forthcoming elections.’


Ramadani wrote that a trade union leader in Basra had reminded him last week that March was the month in 1991 when Saddam launched his campaign to crush an uprising, which began in Basra and spread to most of the country. This week’s attacks, the unionists said, were much more ferocious that those 17 years ago. ‘There are other disturbing echoes: Saddam’s forces were being observed by US and British planes, which were in full control of Iraqi air space as the March uprising was so brutally crushed,’ wrote Ramadani


‘Once again, the occupiers have miscalculated the depth of resentment in Iraq. And once again, the occupation is seen by many Iraqis as a divisive force, the root of the bulk of the violence. For most Iraqis, it is the occupation which threatens to ignite civil war. Only an end to the occupation and complete withdrawal can put Iraq on the long and tortuous path of rebuilding its tormented lands.’


Meanwhile, on Saturday, al-Sadr called on the Arab League, the organization of the Islamic Conference and the United Nations to recognize ‘the Iraqi resistance’.


‘I appeal to these parties to add legitimacy to the resistance and to stand by, not against, the Iraqi people because the Iraqi people need Arabs as much as they need any other person,’ he said in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera in Damascus


Iraq is still under occupation and the United States‘ popularity is reducing every day and every minute in Iraq.’


‘I call, through Al Jazeera, for the departure of the occupying troops from Iraq as soon as possible.’


The administration of Nouri al-Maliki ‘is a national government in name only,’ observed the editor of the Financial Times March 28. ‘In practice it has ceased even pretending to pursue a communalist agenda, preferring the even narrower sectarian interest of the prime minister’s faction of the Da’wa (Call) party and that of its allies in the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq led by Abdelaziz al-Hakim. The Iraqi national army, moreover, is really rebadged militia: in this instance mostly the Badr brigades of the Supreme Council.’


The Hakin forces are pressing for the partitioning of the country, creating a separate state made up of nine oil-rich provinces in the south of the country. Sadr, on the other hand is an Arab nationalist who seeks a unified Iraq and an end to the U.S. occupation.


‘The Sadrists, the main winners of the 2005 elections, are the political expression of the majority of the majority – the Shia poor – and cannot be eliminated militarily. The US-led occupation forces will do nothing for their reputation or the future of Iraq by taking sides in an intra-Shia test of militia strength,’ concluded the paper’s editorial.


As the week began, a tenuous truce was reportedly in effect throughout much if Iraq. The U.S. media spin was that Iranian officials had prevailed upon the Sadrists to stop fighting although, in fact, it was Sadr who repeatedly called for and eventually personally negotiated terms of a ceasefire. However, Teheran did call for an end to conflict in order to remove any ‘pretext’ for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq. ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran does not regard the recent clashes in Iraq as being in the interest of the people of that country and calls for a speedy end to the clashes,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hossein told the press Saturday, adding that by avoiding clashes ‘the people of Iraq take away any pretext for the continued illegal presence of the occupiers.’


Last Friday, Spencer Ackerman wrote in the Washington Independent that the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama had written a letter to President Bush in January saying recent moves by the Administration suggest ‘the United States will indeed construct permanent bases in Iraq, feeding the perception that we intend to remain an occupying force for years to come.’ ‘It would tie the hands of the next commander-in-chief, decreasing his or her flexibility to confront a dynamic threat environment that has shown Al Qaeda more dangerous than at any time since September 11, 2001,’ the letter said.


Obama further requested that the president ‘submit any agreement reached in [U.S.-Iraqi] negotiations to the Senate for its advice and consent.’ That’s precisely what the administration resists,’ wrote Ackerman.


‘I am confident that we can and will end this war,’ newly-elected African American Congressperson Donna Edward (D-Md.) wrote on the Huffington Post last week. ‘The sad fact that the 4000th American troop was killed in Iraq this week only makes our task as citizens more clear. But it is not simply the election in the fall that will determine what kind of path we take in Iraq. It is our choices now, as citizens and voters, in presenting to the public candidates who will offer real alternatives to the current policies of our government.’ Edwards is one of 38 Democratic candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives that came together March 27 to declare that if elected, they will call for the immediate beginning of a withdrawal of troops from Iraq leaving in the end only those troops that would be necessary to guard the U.S. Embassy. This puts them at odds with the two Presidential candidates who insist on leaving such loopholes as maintaining troops in Iraq to train local security forces.


Members of the group have openly expressed their frustration with the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to act decisively to end the occupation.


Last week, on the subject of gas prices, the New York Times editorialized:


‘A lot more needs to be done to prepare the American economy for a world of scarcer, more expensive energy. To start, the nation has to replace the oilmen in the White House with leaders who have a better grasp of the economics of energy and the interests of all Americans.’ Perhaps fashioning a new energy policy can wait until January but ending the occupation should not. These oilpersons know their time at the nation’s helm is running out and thus these incendiary acts of desperation in Basra, Baghdad and beyond. That’s why the world can’t wait 10 months to curb the missile launchers and territory grabbers. The next move would seem to be up to Congress and there at the moment we find both compliancy and a measure of considerable courage.’



BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.

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