From Iraq to Palestine
April 23, 2004 | Page 1
GEORGE W. Bush vowed to "transform the Middle East." Now he's unleashed state terror to impose Washington's will from one end of the region to the other. From the slaughter of hundreds of civilians by U.S. forces in the siege of the Iraqi town of Falluja to Bush's endorsement of Israeli plans to formally annex Palestinian territory, Washington's Middle East policy stands exposed as never before as an imperial power grab.
Last week, Bush blessed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to abandon negotiations and unilaterally withdraw from Gaza, annex Israel settlements in the West Bank and permanently deny Palestinians the right of return to their homes within Israeli borders.
Suddenly, the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" initiated with the 1993 Oslo Accords became a dead letter. And less than three days later, Israel launched a missile strike to assassinate Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi--only weeks after an identical attack killed his predecessor, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Washington's tactical collaboration with Israel can be seen in its methods in Falluja. U.S. forces have sealed off the city, occupied homes and used tanks and missiles in densely populated residential areas. "Images of U.S. soldiers fighting Iraqis last week flooded the Middle East and fueled enraged comparisons of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq to Israel's hold on the West Bank and Gaza Strip," wrote Margaret Coker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The U.S. announced a truce in Falluja--but this could be a pause before an even greater onslaught. With Washington sanctioning Israel's scorched-earth war on Palestinians, this would risk provoking a wider war--that could devastate much of the Middle East.
Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority, declared last week that the followers of the militant cleric Moktada al-Sadr "must be dealt with, and they will be dealt with," adding that Sadr's forces "want to shoot their way into power." This from the man installed as the ruler of Iraq through the armed might of the world's only superpower!
Yet this hard line has only intensified the U.S. crisis in Iraq. More aggressive U.S. tactics have generalized the resistance, leading to greater unity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims against the occupation. With supply lines so harassed by guerrilla fighters, the U.S. military ordered the closure of highways to civilian traffic.
Fiercer resistance has driven up U.S. casualty rates, deepening the widespread demoralization among U.S. soldiers. This was reflected most prominently with rising discontent among military families, who reacted with anger to the announcement that thousands of soldiers would have their deployments extended--and that an additional 20,000 troops would soon be sent to Iraq as well.
The mainstream media was full of reports about soldiers' relatives who had supported the war, but were turning against it as word of the extended deployments--and intensified fighting--reached them. All this comes amid further revelations that the Bush administration had Iraq in its sights from the moment it captured the White House--and after the main justification for the war, Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, was exposed as a lie.
Internationally, the U.S. found its "coalition of the willing" coming unglued when the new government in Spain announced that it would immediately withdraw its troops from the occupation. The Socialist Party had talked about pulling out of Iraq during the election campaign, but it has been under severe pressure from Washington since taking office. Spain's pullout will make it politically difficult for any European government to send troops to Iraq, whether under the umbrella of NATO or the United Nations (UN).
Adding to Washington's problems is the abject failure of it's handpicked Iraqi Governing Council. Many of its members felt compelled to criticize the U.S. siege of Falluja. More serious still was the refusal of most Iraqi armed forces and police to join the U.S. crackdown on the resistance.
Then there's the question of just who the U.S. will turn over "sovereignty" to at the June 30 deadline. "We'll find that out soon," Bush sputtered in his rambling April 13 press conference.
After shoving it aside before the war, the U.S. now hopes that the UN will provide cover in Iraq, but with the Coalition Provisional Authority--renamed the U.S. Embassy as of June 30--continuing to call the shots. But with the scale of the resistance, even this "Plan B" is starting to look like a long shot.
We have to organize to demand a halt to the killing now--and build a movement that can challenge the U.S. government's imperialist domination of the Middle East.
The last occupation of Iraq
BRITISH HISTORIAN Niall Ferguson has some advice for the U.S. rulers in Iraq. You're an imperialist power, so act like one--by drowning the resistance in blood.
Ferguson wrote in the New York Times that the U.S. should learn the lessons of the 1920 Iraqi revolt, which began when Iraqis learned that British colonizers--who claimed to have "liberated" Iraq from the Ottoman Turkish Empire--would remain as an occupying power. "In 1920, the British eventually ended the rebellion through a combination of aerial bombardment and punitive village-burning expeditions," he wrote.
"It was not pretty. Even Winston Churchill, then the minister responsible for the air force, was shocked by the actions of some trigger-happy pilots and vengeful ground troops." The truth is that Churchill backed the use of poison gas against the Kurds, declaring, "I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes."
According to historian Geoff Simons, British forces killed or wounded between 8,000 and 9,000 Iraqis over six months. Now, Ferguson says, it's time to be just as "ruthless."
He called the ceasefire in Falluja could be a "grave error," arguing that "only by quelling disorder firmly and immediately will America be able to achieve its objective of an orderly handover of sovereignty."