Bush plays politics as Iraqis struggle for sovereignty

Congressional Republicans last week killed a provision in the latest “emergency” Iraq war appropriations bill that would have blocked permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.

“The House and Senate went on record opposing permanent bases, but now the Republicans are trying to sneak them back in the middle of the night,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), sponsor of the House amendment.

“The perception that the U.S. intends to occupy Iraq indefinitely is fueling the insurgency and making our troops more vulnerable,” Lee said.

In an interview this week, Iraqi Communist Party spokesperson Salam Ali said it shows that the Bush administration “does not want to be tied down by any restrictions.” Noting that U.S. officials talk of being in Iraq for decades, Ali said it’s all about controlling the energy resources — “this is the prize.”

The U.S. is using the chaos in Iraq to prolong its presence, he charged. “To people like Rumsfeld it’s ‘controlled chaos’ — they feel they can ride the storm and gradually take control.” Although U.S. casualties are mounting, “for them it is acceptable,” he said. “They don’t want to let go.”

Few in or out of Iraq expect the violence to subside with the death of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Terror in Iraq, whether imported or homegrown, “cannot be reduced to a single organization or a single man,” Ali said. There are various agendas in play, he commented: some want an Islamic state, while others “hide behind resistance slogans to conceal their aim of extracting concessions from the Americans” to secure positions of power.

Some groups are believed to have supplied Zarqawi with intelligence and had him carry out operations which they could distance themselves from. Diyala province where he was killed is known as a Baath stronghold where many former Saddam Hussein intelligence officers and Republican Guards live, and Zarqawi’s last hideout is believed to be owned by a former intelligence officer, Ali said.

Zarqawi was associated with open efforts to ignite sectarian war against Shiites, including the most extreme violence such as beheadings, in a well-financed network with links to foreign groups and intelligence agencies. He was coming in increasing conflict with other armed groups who sought to disassociate themselves from his attacks on civilians and police, especially in Anbar province, where Ramadi and Fallujah are located. The majority of armed groups there are closely linked to forces that participated in the December elections and now play a role in the government. The only organizations in Anbar that opposed political participation were Zarqawi’s and those close to it, said Ali. “That was a big split, a very important turning point.”

Hopes are that an Arab League-sponsored meeting of Iraqi political groups and regional governments, now set for early August, will advance Iraqi national unity efforts. The conference is also supported by the United Nations.

Saudi Arabia, along with Jordan, Egypt and others in the region, is concerned about an increased influence of Iran in Iraq, and is encouraging Sunni groups, with whom it has historic religious and tribal ties, to join the political process, Ali said.

The Shiite Islamic alliance, which holds a slim majority in Iraq’s Parliament, is torn by power struggles. The other main blocs are the Kurdish alliance, an alliance of moderate Sunni Islamic groups, a secular coalition that includes the Iraqi Communist Party, and a smaller Sunni bloc close to former Baathists.

What these disparate groups share right now, in a delicate political balance, is “a common interest in getting out of this mess,” Ali said. If they don’t contain the chaos, “they all stand to lose.” The government “can’t wait till things are quiet and peaceful” but must immediately take charge of security, reactivate the economy by getting the public sector working and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, and stamp out rampant organized crime and corruption, particularly in the oil sector. Failing to act decisively in this way allows the U.S. to prolong the occupation, he said.

In a striking display of arrogance, President Bush used Iraq’s government as photo op props in an attempt to help his U.S. poll numbers, showing up in Baghdad June 13 with five minutes notice to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But Iraq’s government is a sovereign government and it should act like one, including insisting on a U.S. withdrawal timetable, Ali emphasized. Unfortunately some in Iraqi politics put a priority on holding onto their positions, and still see the U.S. military presence as helpful, he said. This is part of the political struggle that has to be waged by Iraqis.

The U.S. decision to construct a new $590-million embassy in the heart of Iraq’s government complex — amid Saddam Hussein’s palaces — is “really astonishing” evidence of blind arrogance, Ali said. “They have managed to get away with it now, but once the country settles down it will be looked at in a different light. It will continue to be a symbol of the violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”



Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.