As we go to press...
About 4,000 International Association of Machinists members walked out April 14 against Lockheed Martin Corp. at its plant in Fort Worth, Texas, where fighter jets are produced. In a year of record profits for Lockheed, the union is demanding higher wages and improved benefits. Workers approved the strike with a vote of 2,380 to 432.
Solidarity rally for United Food and Commercial workers Local 538 members on strike against Tyson Foods in Jefferson, Wisconsin. More information available on strike web site at www.TysonfamiliesStandUp.org -- scroll down for link to flyer for rally.
U.S. forces consolidate
occupation of Iraq
Washington targets Syria
with chemical arms charge
U.S. troops have begun patroling Iraqi capital with cops from former regime. US. Marine (above) argues with Iraqi policeman during a joint patrol in east Baghdad, April 14.
BY MARTÍN KOPPEL
As the Anglo-American invasion force consolidates its occupation of Iraq, the White House has stepped up its threats against neighboring Syria. It is accusing the Syrian government of possessing chemical weapons, one of the main pretexts Washington used to launch the imperialist assault on Iraq.
Meanwhile, Washington is taking steps to set up a U.S.-run regime in occupied Iraq. On April 14, the Pentagon announced it had completed its major war operations there, after U.S. forces overran Tikrit, home town of the overthrown president Saddam Hussein.
Washington has faced some initial protests, however, against the establishment of a military occupation regime. On April 15, U.S. troops fired on a crowd protesting a U.S.-imposed governor in Mosul, killing at least 10 people. The same day, 20,000 Iraqis rallied in Nasiriya against a U.S.-sponsored conference on setting up a new government.
In this conflict, driven by the competition between the major imperialist powers over control of the Middle East and its resources, Paris and Berlin have been dealt the biggest blows by the U.S.-British takeover of Iraq. They are clamoring for a "UN role" in running the Iraqi protectorate in order to assure themselves some influence over the division of the oil wealth in the region.
Since taking control of Iraq, Wash ington has turned its sights on Syria. In March, U.S. officials accused the Syrian government of supplying Baghdad with night-vision goggles and other military equipment. After the invasion was launched, they also claimed Damascus was "harboring fugitives" from the Iraqi government. On April 13, U.S. president George Bush declared, "We believe there are chemical weapons in Syria." He warned that the government of President Bashar Assad "must cooperate" and abide by the U.S. government’s orders.
The next day White House spokesman Ari Fleischer labeled Syria a "terrorist state," noting that it was on Washington’s list of "terrorist nations" together with Iraq, Iran, north Korea, Cuba, Libya, and Sudan. Secretary of State Colin Powell ratcheted up the threats further, warning of possible diplomatic or economic sanctions against Syria.
Referring to the U.S.-led invasion, Powell said there was a "new situation" in the Mideast. "We hope that all the nations in the region will now review their past practices and behavior." Syria should "understand its obligations," Powell warned.
The Syrian government has strongly denied the charges. "The only country in the region which has chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons is Israel," a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in Damascus. The fact that a senior Iraqi official had been captured by U.S. forces near the Syrian border was "evidence that Syria didn’t let him in," she said, striking a conciliatory tone toward Washington. "We never had friendly relations with them."
The ruling Baathist Party of Syria, which shares roots with the Iraqi Baathists, has historically taken an Arab nationalist stance. Posing as a champion of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination against Israeli aggression, it has backed resistance organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine. The government of Bashar Assad--who became president in 2000 after the death of his father, longtime president and Baathist leader Hafez Assad--has taken a more openly conciliatory stance toward Washington in face of the escalating imperialist war drive in the Mideast. In the past couple of years Damascus has "provided important intelligence support to Washington in its fight against al Qaeda," a Wall Street Journal article noted.
Nonetheless, the U.S. government has only been emboldened by the signs of weakness from Damascus. In one provocative action, U.S. Special Forces operating in western Iraq took control of key crossings on two major highways into Syria.
Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board, stated April 11 that if Washington determined that Syria had "weapons of mass destruction," it would not "rule out the use of any of our full range of capabilities."
Invasion force consolidates control
The threats against Syria occur as the Anglo-American forces consolidate their hold on Iraq after a three-week-long invasion. Within days of the entry of imperialist forces into Baghdad in early April, U.S. troops had seized the key government buildings and strategic facilities. They engaged in some combat with the Saddam Hussein regime’s irregular forces, known as the Fedayeen, but the Iraqi armed forces largely disintegrated along with the regime and the ruling Baathist party apparatus.
By April 9, senior government officials had disappeared from public view and the city had for all practical purposes fallen into imperialist hands. Hussein himself has not been seen since an April 5 televised appearance in Baghdad. Five days later, U.S. troops had taken control of all major urban centers, including the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul as well as Tikrit, a Baathist bastion.
Numerous media reports have described the fact that most working people and other Iraqis are glad Hussein and his thugs are no longer in power after three decades of rule. U.S. and British troops were welcomed in many neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.
This was especially true in areas inhabited largely by Shiite Muslims, who had been subjected to particularly brutal oppression by the regime, which based itself on perpetuating clan and religious divisions. The Baathist Party cultivated a base of support among a layer of Iraqis who identify themselves as Sunni Muslims.
In the southern city of Basra, for example, Shiites expressed relief that they were free of a regime that had brutally crushed their rebellion in early 1991, immediately following the Gulf War. One continuing symbol of this repression is the main mosque in Basra, destroyed by the regime when it smashed the uprising. Muslims there still have to pray on the street near the rubble of the mosque.
While many in impoverished Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad have expressed support for the U.S. and British military presence, others, including supporters of pro-Iranian groups that opposed the Hussein regime, have made clear their hostility to the occupiers. In Tehran, dozens of supporters of one of these groups stormed the Iraqi embassy April 11, tearing down pictures of Hussein while chanting "Death to America."
The U.S. military brass has gone out of its way to portray the occupation troops as "liberators" and not conquerors. For example, they barred any display of the American flag by U.S. military personnel on vehicles, buildings, and command posts.
On April 9, however, U.S. forces staged the toppling of a 40-foot bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in an incident that did not turn out the way Washington intended. A few hundred Iraqis gathered around the statue in central Baghdad as a U.S. armored vehicle took it down with a crane pulling a heavy cable. Before it was knocked down, a U.S. Marine draped a U.S. flag over Hussein’s head, "a gesture that drew a muted reaction from the crowd, gasps in the Pentagon briefing room, and anger from a commentator on the Arab news network Al Arabiya," CNN reported. The Al Arabiya newsman said, "That should have been an Iraqi flag." U.S. officers replaced the flag with an Iraqi one, but the scene had already been broadcast all over the Mideast and around the world.
It is indisputable that, in many cases, Iraqi toilers welcomed the U.S. and British troops for getting rid of the Hussein regime. Reactions have varied widely, however. Some have expressed support mixed with wariness. Others have not concealed their hostility to the occupiers. Some initially favorable attitudes have soured in response to the initial collapse of water and other basic services, the prospect of a long occupation, and the toll on civilians.
More than 1,200 civilians were killed in the U.S.-British invasion as of April 3--the figure reported by the Iraqi government before its overthrow. Thousands more have been wounded. As many as 10,000 Iraqi soldiers have been killed as well. The Pentagon has said it has no plans to determine how many Iraqi civilians have been killed, injured, or suffered property damage as a result of the U.S. assault.
At the Ani Mosque in Baghdad, a New York Times correspondent wrote, "a group of men confronted an American reporter, angrily denouncing the Bush administration for destroying the city’s public administration and doing little to replace it."
Baghdad has been without electricity and drinking water for days and the medical system has "virtually collapsed," according to the international Red Cross.
With the collapse of the dictatorship, residents of the capital set fire to symbols of the hated regime, including virtually every government ministry. Crowds broke into government buildings and businesses, carting off goods ranging from refrigerators to cars. Looting has also taken place in Basra and other cities.
Apparently caught unprepared, the U.S. military has responded by declaring a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Baghdad, and organizing joint street patrols by U.S. troops and Iraqi cops to crack down on people they accuse of looting. U.S. officials said they were trying to draw local Iraqi officials into organizing a police force.
Washington has set up an Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), run by the Pentagon, to take over the administration of Iraq. It is headed by retired U.S. general Jay Garner.
On April 8, 44 newly appointed officials of the ORHA occupation regime arrived in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. These included retired generals Floyd Walters and Bruce Moore, and Barbara Bodine, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, who will be the proconsuls in southern, northern, and central Iraq, respectively. Corporate lawyer and Pentagon advisor Michael Mobbs will direct the country’s civil administration. Mobbs is the author of a Pentagon memo asserting that the U.S. president can deem U.S. citizens "enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely.
ORHA is supposed to govern Iraq on an interim basis and then hand over civil authority to a provisional administration made up of Iraqis chosen by Washington. Garner says he will do so within 90 days. Other U.S. officials have said the "interim" period will last longer.
To serve as an Iraqi figurehead for this U.S. protectorate, U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz favor naming Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, the U.S.-financed coalition of anti-Hussein groups.
Chalabi and a U.S.-trained unit of 700 of his thugs, called the "First Batallion of Free Iraqi Forces," were airlifted on U.S. military planes to Nasiriya April 6. While he is backed by the Pentagon, U.S. State Department officials are opposed to such an appointment, concerned that Chalabi, a convicted bank embezzler who has lived in exile since Iraq became free from British colonial rule 45 years ago, has little credibility among the Iraqi population.
Some 20,000 Iraqis rallied in Nasiriya April 15 against Washington’s plans to impose such a new regime. Protesters chanted, "Yes to freedom.... Yes to Islam.... No to America.... No to Saddam." The rally was organized in response to a U.S.-organized conference of Iraqi political groups flown to a nearby U.S. air base to make plans for a new government. "We cannot be part of a process which is under an American general," a representative of the Iran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution told the rally, Reuters reported.
The same day, in the northern city of Mosul, U.S. soldiers fired on a crowd protesting a U.S.-installed governor, killing at least 10 people and injuring as many as 100. The Australian Broadcasting Company reported that U.S. troops "fired into a crowd which was becoming increasingly hostile towards the new governor, Mashaan al-Juburi, as he was making a pro-U.S. speech."
About 1,200 protesters blocked U.S. Marines from entering Kut’s city hall April 15, shouting: "No, No Chalabi!"
Conflicts with Paris, Berlin
Washington has made clear that it will be in charge of the new "interim" regime in Iraq, running into conflict with Paris, Berlin, and other imperialist governments, as well as the bureaucratic regime in Moscow, which all insist on a prominent role by the United Nations (see article on page 4).
The initial dispute has revolved around the "reconstruction" contracts. French and German companies are among those seeking a piece of the post-invasion booty. Paris-based telecommunications giant Alcatel, for example, says it is qualified because it built Iraq’s telephone network. German engineering and construction firms built roads, bridges, and dams in Iraq, all of which have been devastated by the two imperialist wars and 12 years of economic sanctions against that country.
They are likely to be iced out by their U.S. rivals, however. The initial eight reconstruction contracts offered by the U.S. Agency for International Development were restricted to U.S. bidders. The Kellogg Brown & Root unit of U.S. company Halliburton was one of the first, winning a lucrative contract to make emergency repairs to Iraq’s oil fields and get them to prewar production levels. U.S. vice president Richard Cheney was previously Halliburton’s CEO for several years.
Washington ‘must hold Iraq together’
As they tighten their control over Iraq, the U.S. rulers are also concerned about the uncontrolled forces their invasion has set in motion. Despite its conflict with Saddam Hussein over the past 12 years, Washington had always relied on that regime to keep the struggles of the Kurds and other oppressed groups in check.
In the 1991 Gulf War the first Bush administration, after defeating Iraq’s army, allowed the Hussein regime to suppress uprisings by the Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south. The last thing the U.S. government wants is for the Kurdish people--an oppressed nationality in Iraq, Turkey, and other neighboring countries--to assert its long-denied right to self-determination.
In northern Iraq, for example, where the Kurdish population is concentrated, 4,000 Kurdish combatants joined with U.S. Special Operations troops to take Kirkuk, a major city and oil center. Pentagon officials quickly announced, however, that they were sending U.S. troops to replace the Kurdish pesh merga fighters, concerned that the latter’s presence might create conflicts with the Arab population and get in the way of consolidating U.S. control of the city. A related goal is to undercut objections by the Turkish government, which is worried that the events in Iraq may increase unrest among the large and savagely repressed Kurdish population in Turkey.
One of the clearest voices on the U.S. rulers’ need to keep a lid on Iraq’s oppressed nationalities has been ultrarightist politician Patrick Buchanan. "With the Iraqi army destroyed, U.S. forces must hold the country together. Any attempt by Kurds to declare independence would bring a rapid Turkish invasion," he wrote in an April 14 syndicated column. "If we do not want a clash with the Turks, our Kurdish allies cannot be permitted to take over the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, to which they have ancient claims."
Buchanan added, "A similar problem exists in the south. In 1991, the Shiites rose in rebellion at the urging of Bush I and were butchered by Saddam’s troops. As the largest ethnic group in Iraq, will they accept continued rule by the Sunnis who persecuted them for three decades? What will we do if the Shiites and Kurds both declare independence? Iran, a Shiite nation, will be fishing in these waters."
Imperialist troops out of Mideast!
Occupation of Iraq deepens imperialist rift