Iraq: will Obama’s ‘change’ be more of the same?

‘Rebranding’ the occupation will not save US imperialism in Iraq.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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Long before Obama’s formal accession to the post of US President on 20 January, his campaign promises to ‘end the war’ in Iraq were already starting to look pale and sickly in the post-election light of day.

Recalling his own promise to remove all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, Obama began to fudge the issue, warning that “it might be necessary – likely to be necessary – to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support, to protect our civilians in Iraq”. (Quoted in International Herald Tribune, 5 December 2008)

This supposed ‘duty of protection’ owed to the mother country’s ‘innocents abroad’ is the oldest trick in the colonial book, whether as pretext for initiating aggression or justification for continuing it.

The hypocrisy is particularly rank in this case, given that ‘our civilians in Iraq’ is a euphemism for the pack of shysters, mercenaries and parasites exported from the West to occupied Iraq, motivated by the desire to make vast profits out of the occupation, either by winning lucrative contracts to build the infrastructure of conquest (like the vast fortress complex misleadingly termed the new US ‘embassy’) or by acting as ‘security contractors’ (mercenaries in unaccountable units working to sow sectarian division through dirty tricks operations).

It is Iraqis who need protection from these thieves and mobsters, not vice versa. For that protection, it will continue to look to the patriotic forces of resistance.

So how many troops did Obama suppose would be required to protect these scoundrels, and what distinguishes them from the ‘combat’ troops, all of whom are supposed to be through the exit by May 2010?

One of his national security advisors, Richard Danzig, has suggested a figure between 30,000 and 55,000, and US army planners are briefing journalists that as many as 70,000 may still be there even beyond 2011. That would seem an awful lot of soldiers to defend a few US expats – were it not as clear as day that the real purpose of such heavy numbers is to maintain an armed outpost on Iraqi soil, threatening the sovereignty of Iraq’s neighbours.

In fact, the current troop total (not counting the mercenary ‘contractors’ army) is estimated at 146,000, comprising 50 brigades. Yet of these 50 brigades, only 15 actually count as ‘combat’ brigades.

So what are the other 35 doing? Are they organising conflict-resolution workshops? If only about 30 percent of existing troops are designated ‘combat’ troops, it doesn’t take a genius to see the scope for changing the name without changing the thing.

The Pentagon war planners are not slow to cotton on to the Presidential subtext, and are reportedly of the view “that Obama’s goal could be accomplished at least in part by relabeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned’”. (Ibid)

We are told that “military planners are quietly acknowledging that many will stay behind as renamed ‘trainers’ and ‘advisers’. In other words, they will still be engaged in combat, just called something else.” (International Herald Tribune, 22 December 2008)

Older readers will remember a young Irish American with an attractive wife who rode into the White House on a wave of popular enthusiasm. The democratic expectations Kennedy raised were worrying enough to the establishment for his career to be cut short through the traditional US technique of assassination, but not before he had laid the foundations for the genocidal war against Vietnam by sending to that country, not ‘combat’ troops, but – ‘military advisors’.

At the end of that long war of aggression, US imperialism retreated in defeat and humiliation. Today, as the US economy spirals ever deeper into crisis, the war against the Iraqi nation is proving to be an enormously costly failure to US imperialism.

US and British imperialism counted on their ability to overawe the patriotic resistance by sheer firepower: they failed. US and British imperialism counted on setting up a puppet regime in Baghdad which would acquire enough popular support to function as a stable comprador power in the region: they failed. US and British imperialism counted on securing safe and reliable access to the nation’s precious oil reserves: they failed. US and British imperialism counted on breaking the unity of the Iraqi nation on the rock of sectarianism: they failed.

Confronted with this catalogue of failures, the imperialists hope to make the best of a bad job by remaining as a thorn in the side for Iraq and its neighbours, aiming to project their power in the region through a permanent armed presence. Yet, by the same token, their forces will increasingly be identified as a permanent target for the growing forces of resistance in the region.

The puppet ‘prime minister’ of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, must have had mixed feelings as the US symbolically vacated the Republican Palace and invited him to run the Iraqi flag up the pole instead (another exercise in rebranding). What an honour for these quislings to be handed over the keys – so that they can become prime sitting targets in place of the colonists!

Indeed, so fearful of unwelcome attention were the quislings and their masters that the actual handover was hidden from public view, with reporters banned from the event. Instead, the journalists were ferried to a different ceremony on a makeshift podium in the middle of a street in the Green Zone.

Meanwhile, the main US HQ is to shift to the newly built ‘embassy’ – doubtless fated in turn to be increasingly the focus of attention for the resistance in the period ahead.

The moral to be drawn from this whole rebranding farce is not that nothing is really changing. Some things don’t change, it’s true. The permanent interest of Anglo-American imperialism in dominating and looting the Middle East, at the expense both of its rivals and of all independent development in the region, does not change; it simply intensifies. Even some of the faces stay the same: Obama’s defence secretary Robert Gates has worked under no fewer than seven previous presidents, a loyal servant of imperialism throughout.

What has changed, however, is the world’s perception of the USA. All the ‘shock and awe’ bravado of the initial assault on Baghdad, all the subsequent efforts to paint the puppet regime as representative of the Iraqi people, all that bluster and black propaganda has achieved just one thing: to demonstrate to the whole world that US imperialism is not invulnerable, that it can be fought to a standstill, that it can be beaten.

Nothing Washington does now can reverse or rebrand this signal achievement of the Iraqi resistance.

> Obama s victory and its significance – December 2008

> Is the US really turning the corner in Iraq – February 2008