“The increasing tribalization of Iraq has made it almost impossible for any organized national threat to counter Washington’s dominance. Even the organized resistance groups in Iraq are waging a defensive fight aimed only at ridding their nation of the occupier.”
2007 ended with a whimper in Iraq. The final attack occurred in the town of Mishada and took at least twelve lives. Although obviously tragic to those who died, when compared with most of the rest of 2007, this killing was minimal. Indeed, it was indicative of the decline in attacks by both the resistance and military forces that began in October of last year. While this is certainly good news for the people of Iraq and the occupiers, it remains a question as to how long it will last and what it might mean.
Of course, those in the United States that support the occupation consider the decrease in deaths to be proof that the occupation is working and that it should continue. The leaders of Washington’s client regime in Baghdad are also breathing a small sigh of relief, although they have yet to come anywhere close to gloating like their supporters in Washington. This failure to gloat is quite likely due to the fact that, being Iraqi and in Iraq, they have a much better understanding of how tenuous the relative peace in Iraq really is. That understanding seems to be echoed in the statements of US military spokespeople who are actually in Iraq. Indeed, military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told a news conference in Baghdad on December 29, 2007 that, “We realize that security is very fragile and that at any moment any attack could occur at any place in Iraq.”
Given this acknowledgement and the facts on the ground, what might this mean for the people of Iraq in the near future? To answer this question, it is useful to look at the elements that contributed to the lull in fighting. Most importantly, and rarely mentioned by the Pentagon or its political supporters, is the fact that US soldiers and Marines are rarely venturing off their bases. Conversations with GIs recently back from Iraq suggest that instead of running convoys and going on patrols into villages—kicking in doors and harassing people—the US military is mostly standing put. Nor are the GIs and Marines manning as many guardposts as they were during the escalation that was advertised as a surge earlier in 2007. This work is now being done by the predominantly Shia Iraqi military and police in Shia areas and by the so-called Awakening forces in Sunni areas. In fact, it seems like the only Iraqis the US military continues to attack regularly are those aligned with Moqtada al-Sadr, who are also the only consistent opponent of the US occupation among the Shia. Of course, there are also the occasional offensive operations against what Washington continues to call Al Qaeda in Iraq (which seems to be what all armed resistance in Iraq is now called); operations that disrupt the lives of those living in the targeted villages and destroy their livelihoods. These offensives have killed more GIs in the New Year as they require US soldiers and marines to leave their bases.
While the fact that it is Iraqis enforcing US desires has decreased the killing, it has not changed the fact that Washington is still calling the shots in Iraq. Like the “Vietnamization” policy put in place by Washington in Vietnam during the final years of that war, the primary goal of the current US policy in Iraq is to minimize US casualties while maintaining control of the country. Paying for the good will and allegiance of the armed forces in Iraq—which is what Washington is doing in regards to both the official Iraqi military and police and the Awakening councils—will last for only so long. Once either or both of these elements overstep their bounds by attacking civilians or ignoring Washington’s wishes, that allegiance will disintegrate rather quickly. Also, according to a recent ABC/BBC poll, 98 percent of Sunnis and 84 percent of Shias in Iraq want all U.S. forces out of the country. Furthermore, if Washington pushes its agenda by demanding or forcing through the oil law and other so-called benchmarks, it could very well lose the support it has bought since hardly any Iraqis support the theft of their nation’s resources.
Which brings us back to Washington. As noted before, the White House is quietly gloating over the downturn in casualties in Iraq, especially the American ones. One can also be quite certain that one more reason for the Democrats’ recent silence about even suggesting troop withdrawals is because most of them also believe that the White House was right. After all, both Democrats and Republicans believe that the US has the right to rule the world in the name of ‘democracy’ and the free market. It is only on how to go about it that they occasionally differ. This is quite apparent when it comes to Iraq when top Democrats blame the Green Zone government for its failure to meet the aforementioned benchmarks–benchmarks that were designed by Washington to benefit Wall Street, not Baghdad. Most of the much ballyhooed withdrawal legislation drawn up by the Democrats in 2007 was never intended to actually withdraw US troops from Iraq. These bills—all of which failed—were merely shows to keep the antiwar voters on board for the 2008 election. Now it is the generals who speak of drawdowns. Of course, when one reads the small print, those drawdowns actually amount to a return to 2005 numbers. That is, about 130, 000 troops, maybe fewer than now but certainly not an end to the US presence.
One aspect of Iraq that is barely discussed is the situation of the Kurds. The current political leaders of that region of the country have made deals with oil companies on their own only to see those deals suspended by Washington’s government in Baghdad. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has 100,000 troops massed on the Iraq-Turkey border and its air force is bombing Kurdish villages in Iraqi Kurdistan with the assistance of the Pentagon. The Iraqi Prime Minister is offering aid to those Kurds whose homes have been destroyed in the raids. In short, the potential for a different, unmentioned element of the Iraqi quandary to erupt into something greater than anyone foresaw increases each time the Turkish Air Force flies another sortie over the Kurdish region of Iraq where it claims PKK remnants are living. Despite this claim by Ankara, most reports of casualties tell of deaths and injuries to civilians, not PKK fighters.
Looking at the situation in Iraq almost five years after the US/UK invasion, the only conclusion one can honestly make is that the invasion and its subsequent modifications have deepened and militarized religious and tribal differences in Iraqi society. If the primary reasons of the US led action were to destroy a regional threat to Tel Aviv and Washington’s plans for the region and to gain complete control of Iraq’s energy resources, then the tribalization of Iraq has insured the former. Just like in the larger world, the increasing tribalization of Iraq has made it almost impossible for any organized national threat to counter Washington’s dominance. Even the organized resistance groups in Iraq are waging a defensive fight aimed only at ridding their nation of the occupier. If this deepening of divisions was part of Washington’s plans all along, then one must admit it has been a success. In fact, the arming of different groups by Washington at different times has made it next to impossible for it not to be successful. As for the other goal of total control of Iraq’s energy resources, how that will play out remains to be seen, since very few Iraqis of any persuasion support such a goal.
Ron Jacobs is an anti-imperialist and the author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground (Verso 1997). His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, was released in 2007 from Mainstay Press. His most recent novel is The Co-Conspirator's Tale (Fomite Press 2011). He currently lives in North Carolina, USA.