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Issue 574, 5 October 2007 - All unions should back the Greens

Slaughter continues as the "surge" fails in Iraq

At least 10,000 stood up to police intimidation to protest against George Bush’s visit for the APEC summit in Sydney. But, argue George Karavas and Tom Barnes, we need to redouble our efforts to make sure that Australian troops are withdrawn from Iraq immediately, no matter who wins the election.

Slaughter continues as surge fails in Iraq IN SEPTEMBER commander of US forces in Iraq David Petraeus attempted to sell the troop Surge in Iraq as a success.

Petraeus considered it so successful that he recommended withdrawing troops so by mid-2008 only 130,000 would remain. George Bush praised the general in his televised address stating: "Our success now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home".

But keeping 130,000 troops in Iraq only means a return to pre-January numbers. So the obvious question is: If the Surge has been successful, why do any troops need to return?

The truth is that the policy, originally considered a last-ditch effort by Bush to regain credibility, has been a failure. His administration portrayed the surge as an attempt to restore order on the streets of Baghdad and to smash "al Qaida" in the western province of Anbar.

But this was always propaganda. The real aim was firstly to quell the predominantly Shia-led resistance in Baghdad with 20,000 troops and secondly to smash the Sunni-led resistance in the west-a force that by and large has nothing to do with Osama bin Laden or al Qaida.

Petraeus attributed the success of the surge to recent collaboration between the US and previously hostile Sunnis in Anbar province, a crackdown on insurgents within Nuri al-Maliki's government and a decline in sectarian violence. But the reality is far from a success for the US.

Firstly, any cooperation with local tribes in Anbar province is not evidence of diffused hostility towards the occupation. Petraeus reported that the province had initially been declared "lost" a year ago but the recent decline in violent attacks and local opposition to al Qaida had transformed it into a model for the rest of Iraq.

Anbar province is where the largest number of coalition troops have been killed with 1275 recorded deaths. Only Baghdad is second with 1170.

Any cooperation with local tribes in Anbar is flimsy at best. Asia Times journalist Pepe Escobar has suggested that some Sunni tribes may seek to profit from any cooperation with the US in order to procure more weapons to further destabilise the al-Maliki government.

But even the groups that favour civil war are also bitterly opposed to the occupation.

Underlining this point, the Pentagon admitted on July 31 that it could not account for 190,000 AK-47 rifles handed to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, 135,000 items of body armour and 115,000 helmets.

A government report argues the US has spent $22.55 billion since 2003 on "training and equipping Iraqi forces". The Pentagon recently asked for another $2.35 billion, prompting the Washington Post to ask how much of this money would be used to kill US troops.


Plummeting morale

The more important aim of the surge was to crush belligerent former supporters of al-Maliki's government, particularly the Mahdi Army and supporters of its spiritual leader, the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Petraeus claimed that the surge had disrupted the leadership of Shia extremists.

There is some evidence that sections of the Mahdi Army have engaged in the sectarian cleansing of Sunni neighbourhoods. Al-Sadr claims he is opposed to this and has called for a united resistance movement against the occupiers. So when he called a ceasefire in August in order to deal with his political opponents, there was a brief fall in attacks on US troops.

But we have seen this sort of thing before. The tragic bombing of Samarra's Golden Mosque in February 2006 led to a brief lull in attacks on US troops as sectarian killings shot up. But the number of attacks on US troops soon shot up again, until they were considerably more frequent than even the very large numbers of sectarian incidences.

Petraeus's carefully selected figures on violence hide other important indicators that suggest it is continuing and, in some places, escalating.

Official reports, which probably underestimate the numbers by a long way, show that 1809 Iraqi died violently in August-almost double the figure for the same month in 2006.

Any reduction in sectarian violence is attributable to the ethnic cleansing in Baghdad. Neighbourhoods in Baghdad are separated by massive concrete walls similar to those used by Israel in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

Morale among US troops is plummeting. More and more US soldiers are committing suicide after they return and over 40,000 have gone AWOL since the start of the war. Petraeus's report has been compared to General William Westmoreland's report during the Vietnam War. Westmoreland was convinced that the US could beat the Viet Cong in a "war of attrition".

The surge has failed to achieve its aim of stabilising Iraq. The US is caught between a sectarian civil war that it cannot control and a relentless armed resistance movement against its occupation. Its main strategy remains to encourage militia to fight amongst each other while it prepares the ground for a permanent military presence in the country.

But this cannot work without something eventually giving, as British forces in southern Iraq are finding out the hard way. According to al-Sadr: "The British have given up and they know they will be leaving Iraq soon."

We need to redouble our efforts to make sure that Australian troops are withdrawn from Iraq immediately, no matter who wins the election.

By George Karavas and Tom Barnes