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PETRAS ESSAYS IN ENGLISH 

September 15, 2003

US invasion of Iraq: The phony war and popular resistance

James Petras
Rebelión

Introduction

The account of the US invasion of Iraq is cloaked in lies and distortions, which magnify the successes of the US military command. The story of a rapid victory, with a minimal number of casualties is cited as illustrative of the superior military power of the US, the genius of Pentagon strategists and the collapse of military morale among the Iraqi forces faced with superior military force and the inevitability of a US military victory. Despite the wide circulation of this account in all the media and its virtual acceptance by writers of all political persuasions, there are several important unanswered questions: Why weren't Iraqi planes utilized to attack US command posts in Kuwait and US vessels only minutes away? Why was Baghdad left virtually militarily abandoned? Why has there been more US military casualties "after the war" than before? Why has the resistance and fighting morale of the Iraqis not diminished under the military occupation by US troops?

These and other questions lead to a deeper interrogation-Was the military 'engagement' between the US invading forces and the Iraqi government actually a 'war'? Over 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and eight thousand civilians were killed and many thousands more injured. This means that there was a very violent attack by the US of Iraqi cities and military installations. A military invasion and even occupation does not necessarily mean that a war took place. I do not want to say that there were not pockets of resistance, some of them quite determined, but what is clear is that strategic cities, oil cities in the North, Baghdad, the capital in the center and the oil cities of the southern border regions were conquered without encountering any major resistance, despite vast caches of arms, a large standing army and armed informal partisans.

The idea of 'war' implies the conflict of two armies, which in large part did not occur. It is true that the US acted as if there was a war - they bombed, they maimed, they massacred and their ground forces and mobile armaments conquered Iraq…but they never engaged in warfare. A peculiar war with one side bombing and conquering and the other side…involved in the minimum engagement. As the hours passed into days and the US forces rolled on effortlessly, two explanations were put forth by the US military, both self-serving and both widely circulated by the media. The first was the air attacks had "devastated" the Iraqi military both physically and psychologically and thus they "retreated", abandoned their posts or surrendered. This "explanation" raises even more questions: if they "retreated" where did they go, if at no point was there a "last stand" - a concentrated location of mass resistance? If they abandoned the army, how was it that their military commanders and officers permitted this to happen? The responsibility for the discipline, order and regrouping of a military force lies with the military command - what was their role? Thirdly, less that 5% of the Iraqi Army was incapacitated, at least physically, why didn't the rest of the 95% of the armed forces continue in the struggle?

When the racist, neo-conservative and Zionist pundits and academics make their frequent and ill-informed forays into the 'Arab Mind", they express open contempt for the "Arabs' lack of discipline, fighting ability and capacity to stand up to a determined democratic adversary like Israel and the US. They use these generic imperialist clichés to "explain" every military success, and to justify future military invasions. This "explanation" fails to account for the sustained daily attacks by the Iraqi resistance to the US occupation army "after" the war ended. Moreover this racist view of "the Arabs" particularly by the Zionists in the Pentagon accounts for the biggest US "miscalculations" in the war: the mistaken notion that the Iraqis would submit to the US occupation, that there would be little resistance, and that the "Arab street" could be intimidated by the 'big bombs' (according to Kagan) .

Most Iraqi troops did not surrender - many of the Iraqis taken prisoner occurred after the war. The US and British command reported only a few thousand military prisoners. The bulk of the Iraqi military arms were not surrendered because the carriers of those arms did not turn them over. The US did not disarm the Iraqi army because they never captured them to disarm them - as normally takes place when a victorious army captures enemy troops.

The Thesis of a Phony War

The US military invasion of Iraq resulted in a phony war, where the US pretended to engage an enemy in combat, when in fact it violently occupied the country with a minimum of resistance. The US did not win a war, as its political and military leaders claim, the Iraqi generals and some of its key politicians handed over the country to them.

The US occupied Iraq quickly because of the treasonous behavior of its military commanders. The behavior of its political leadership leading up to the war - particularly in relation to the United Nations also severely undermined Iraqi defenses. Without leadership, strategy or direction, the Iraqi armed forces barely fought the US military advance. Moreover the secret deals between Iraqi generals and the US, provided them with a safe exit in exchange for demobilizing the Iraqi forces particularly in Baghdad and other cities and preserving the oil fields for US exploitation. The Iraqi armed forces were not defeated in combat, but their ability to resist the first phase of the invasion was undermined.

Subsequently without the traitorous general command and having been discharged by the second US viceroy (Bremer), many of the ex-soldiers were transformed into the anti-colonial resistance, engaging in dozens of combat confrontations with the US armed forces on a daily basis.

Contrary to Bush, the US-Iraqi war began, not ended, on May 1, 2003 . For the first time the Iraqi people were not led by conciliatory leaders who allowed the UN to inspect, disarm and inform on the Iraqi defenses, thus providing vital strategic intelligence and support to US and British war preparations. The anti- colonial Iraqi resistance represents a new and more effective configuration of military adversaries to the US empire, one that is capable of prolonged peoples' war, which was inconceivable under Saddam Hussein and his military commanders.

To understand the outbreak of the real US-Iraqi war it is useful to review the process leading up to it.

Pre-War Preparations: US and Iraqi Conciliation

Throughout the 1990's the Iraqi regime adopted a conciliatory policy toward the US. Despite US government and mass media propaganda about Saddam Hussein's "non-cooperation", "intransigence" and his secret weapons of mass destruction , in fact the regime submitted to United Nations search and destroy missions to all major military installations, weapons factories and scientific facilities. Under the direction of US-appointed Secretary General Kofi Annam, the UN inspectors who included Richard Butler and others who were working with and for the CIA, turned over strategic data on the location of military targets and Iraqi capability to US intelligence. In addition, they provided information based on interviews with scientists, generals and political officials, concerning their degrees of commitment to the regime and the likely reactions to a future US attack. Over the course of the decade, the UN inspection teams and their counterparts in the International Atomic Energy Agency headed by another US-appointed client El Baradi, totally destroyed every conceivable weapons system that could have defended Iraq and inflicted casualties on an invading US army. The constant bombing with impunity by US and British airforce and missiles of Iraq over the decade attests to the success of the UN inspectors unilateral disarmament program. The United Nations enforced US dictated economic sanctions killing over a million Iraqis, including over 500,000 children, further weakening Iraq's defiance capabilities. In northern Iraq, the US carved out a colonial protectorate, arming and protecting its Kurdish warlords. While the Iraqi regime vigorously protested the US/UN constant violations of its sovereignty, the division of the country, the US terror bombing and disarmament, it ultimately submitted at each point.

The Iraqi regime reasoned that its political openness would decrease its military vulnerability, hoping that each concession would secure the lifting of the economic sanctions. In fact, the contrary was true, each concession increased US pressure, as Washington interpreted them as signs of weakness and as an opening toward securing full control over the Iraqi state and oil fields through a client regime. The dictatorial regime further weakened Iraq's defensive capability by proscribing the emergence of grass roots popular anti-imperialist movements, and excluding local independent initiatives, controlling all decisions through a very reduced circle of Saddam loyalists and generals of questionable commitments and competence. The unleashing of mass anti-imperialist movements and military resistance would have to wait for the fall of the Saddam dictatorship and the dismantling of the military command subsequent to the US invasion.

The Deal that Won the War: Betrayal and the Phony War

The television cameras of the embedded reporters highlighted the bombs and missiles exploding, the burnt out Iraqi tanks, and the advancing British and US troops. Almost all the reporters killed were independent non-US journalists and photographers killed by US military, not by Iraqi fire. The media picked up on the scattered resistance, the capture of dozens of prisoners and above all the press conferences of the armchair generals directing the invasion from headquarters in Florida. As the US-British forces advanced, the principle resistance was from small units in the towns and in the city of Basra, largely by Iraqi detachments under local command - and Baathist fedayeen. To prop up the imagery of a full scale war and of course to puff up the military accomplishments of the generals, every skirmish was magnified, every exchange of fire was given exaggerated importance. As the US war machine lumbered on with little military opposition, the media and the military officials attributed it to the formidable power, the sheer brilliance of Rumsfeld's military strategy, Wolfowitz' war planning acumen and the overall show of power of the Zionist-militarist clique claque (Kagan, Perle, Kristol, Cohen, Adelman, Feith, and Pipes). At some point, an unembedded journalist inconveniently pointed out that maybe the rapid US military advance had something to do with the fact that the "other side" was not fighting very hard, that the US had not encountered the main force of the Iraq army, that no Iraqi short range missiles were launched and that no suicide planes had attacked.

"It's coming at the next juncture," the generals said and the media embellished. Then "their military was not prepared," said another Washington strategist (as if the US military buildup and announced military attack, six months in advance, was the most secret attack in modern military history!). Then one highly placed military genius solemnly declared, "they learned from the last Gulf War that they would be slaughtered in a desert war. They have fallen back to the cities. They are concentrating their forces and armaments in Baghdad for a last stand."

Once again the mass media took their cues and dubbed it the "Battle of Baghdad" and beat the drums about the great forthcoming battle. Everyday and every hour, the embedded journalists counted the kilometers to the Final Battle, speculated on how many thousands of troops would be engaged, potential casualties, how the US would handle "house to house" battles and "street fighting". On the outskirts of Baghdad, there was sniper fire, some light machine gun fire and of course US bombing of the city, poor neighborhoods, markets and hospitals. Thousands of civilians were maimed or died, but this was not reported. There was some scattered shooting at the airport that was touted by the mass media as a significant battle even as the US armored carriers occupied the facilities in a few hours (where several US troops injured themselves breaking into the liquor stores of the duty free shops). In a short amount of time, the US troops, armored vehicles, helicopters entered Baghdad and there was virtually no resistance from a city of 6 million people. Each shot echoed and was amplified by the media to give the impression of a successful major military encounter. The major military, intelligence, and petroleum buildings were taken over intact. The US military took over the Ministries of Defense and Petroleum but refused to engage the mobs of looters pillaging the major civilian institutions. We will have to wait for a final verdict on whether the US troops refused to intervene out of fear or in complicity with the vandals. They prevented armed Iraqi police from intervening and they even shot civilians who tried to battle the looters.

There were no heroics, no Stalingrad defeated, no great battles, therefore no great victories. These had to be invented.

Emblematic to this phony war was the "rescue" of Private Jessica Lynch, a US soldier with severe motor vehicular related injuries, who was captured and treated in an Iraqi hospital. During her hospitalization, she was given priority medical treatment. Even the nurses donated their blood for her transfusions. However in search for heroics, the US fabricated the story of a valiant Private Jessica, the teenage warrior, who fought and killed a squadron of Iraqis, was taken under guard to a hospital by abusive soldiers and liberated from her sadistic captors by a group of US commandos who fought their way into the hospital, subdued the nurses and whisked Private Jessie to safety. The hospital was shot up and vandalized, physicians, nurses and even patients were terrorized, manacled, some hooded and taken away. There were no Iraqi soldiers in the hospital, no armed resistance, only patients and the medical personnel who had saved the life a seriously injured enemy prisoner. Lynch, who had never fired a shot, had broken bones and crush injuries from the crashing of her vehicle and not the bullet and stab wounds reported by the giddy press. The hoax quietly unraveled while editorials gushed over the combat skills of the US female soldiers. Lynch, for her part, claimed amnesia, was honorably discharged and is now pursuing a $1 million dollar book contract with a ghost writer (not bad for amnesia). The Iraqi war was just a Jessie Lynch story writ large.

The explanation for the disappearance of the 250,000 strong elite Republican Guard, the grounding of 500 Iraqi military aircraft, the storage of warehouses of anti- tank missiles, mortars and tons of heavy and light arms and armored carriers is that a deal between the Pentagon and the Iraqi generals was consummated. No other explanation can account for the fact that US tanks passed virtually unimpeded along modern highways, why the tanks and troops were able to cross the bridges into Baghdad which were mined but not detonated and why thousands of US troops slouched into the center of Baghdad with only occasional sniper fire. Far greater resistance occurred in Basra, An Nassariya, Kerbala, An Najaf which were not under the central command of the Iraq generals or the top echelons of the Republican Guard. Interviews with rank and file Iraqi soldiers who were at the airport reported that there was a short fire fight followed by orders for total withdrawal.

The Pentagon-approved deal offered transport and safe passage for the top commanders of the Republican Guard and their families to the United States or other safe havens in addition to substantial sums of money. Those who chose to go to the US were granted residency and eventual citizenship. For lower echelon officials, they were promised high positions in the restructured Iraqi military to be set up by the US occupation. In exchange the defecting generals and senior commanders dismantled defenses, demobilized the troops and quietly surrendered Baghdad. They provided detailed military information on the locus of any points of military resistance and the location of Saddam Hussein, his family members and the 'loyalists' who were out of the 'loop'.

Given the centralized structure of command, the orders of virtual surrender were complied down the line - except for localized detachments that offered resistance. Abandoned soldiers with arms, in some cases, joined the looters or rioters, either for personal profit or to express their outrage at their betrayal.

The abandonment of command structures at first created demoralization and drift into local pockets of resistance which eventually were regrouped into networks of guerrilla resistance. The first US viceroy Garner, familiar with "the deal" and seeking to create orderly transfer of power in his hands, proposed to reorganize the Armed Forces by reincorporating a substantial part of the old army under US military tutelage. This policy met heavy fire from the Zionist hardliners in the Pentagon who sought to utterly destroy the Iraqi army and turn the country into ethno-religious fiefdoms run by the US military to ensure that Israel had absolute supremacy in the Middle East and an Iraqi regime willing to establish relations with the Jewish state (an Iraqi version of the Jordanian Hashemite dictatorship). When Bremer replaced Garner he proceeded to implement the Wolfowitz-Feith line - he abolished the entire 500,000 strong Iraqi Army, thus increasing the number of armed unemployed, opening them up to the message of the original nuclei of military resisters who had emerged following the defection of the generals. The incorporation of military specialists in mines, explosives and tactical warfare greatly augmented the capacity of the newly formed underground resistance to engage US troops in multiple attacks everyday. The US concentration on military control and oil extraction, and the political subcontracting of reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure led to prolonged delays and ultimately failure to restart basic services to 25 million Iraqis, creating a sea of hostility to the US occupation and a new wave of recruits and sympathizers to the burgeoning guerrilla resistance. As the resistance demonstrated its effectiveness new internationalists fighters joined from neighboring Muslim and Arab countries.

The striking success of the guerrillas can be measured in several ways: the capacity to carry out dozens of military actions in a sustained fashion in a great variety of regions of the country everyday; their success in hit and run fighting that maximizes US casualties and minimizes losses; their effectiveness in undermining colonial oil pipeline projects thus shifting popular blame to the occupiers; their effectiveness in driving out the colonial auxiliaries in the UN, World Bank, IMF and many NGO's - who might have made inroads in co-opting local collaborators, particularly among the unemployed professional elite and local subcontractors. Most central to their struggle is the notion that no reconstruction can take place before colonial rule is ended; the "reconstruction under colonial rule" will only perpetuate the new rulers and enrich the MNC's which will take over Iraq's public firms, oil, electrical, water and other basic infrastructure, establish huge permanent US military bases and undermine the unity of the country.

The New Wave: The Future of the Resistance

The attempt by the US to "turn back the clock" to an earlier period of colonial invasions and direct rule was a bizarre notion foisted on the imperialists in the Bush Administration by the Zionist officials and extremist militarists. Their purpose was not to pursue flexible tactics to create a new client state, but to destroy Iraq, now and in the future, as a potential alternative to Israeli power in the Middle East. They pushed for destroying the state totally turning Iraq into a subsistence economy, forcing the migration of millions of trained workers and professionals out of the Middle East. They pursued a regime presided over by the US military and a collection of exile clients beholden to their Zionist sponsors in the Pentagon. Ahmed Chalabi is the prime example.

As a result, the rule and ruin policy has had the effect of augmenting the forces of armed resistance, provoking anti-colonial opposition from the overwhelming majority and undermining efforts by the Bush regime to extricate itself from Iraq by "internationalizing" their colonial rule with mercenary soldiers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe.

The Z (Zionist) clique led by Wolfowitz now admits to having "underestimated" the problem of post-invasion Iraq. In fact his prime obsession of defending Israel at all costs - even with mounting US casualties - was behind the policy of destroying the Iraqi military and believing that military power would cower "the Arabs" into eternal submission. The "mistakes" were build into the original anachronistic Israeli model of colonization and the iron fist - which the Z clique holds in such esteem and in which some of them (Perle and Feith) elaborated in their report for Netanyahu in 1996.

Now the US is embedded in a colonial war which, history teaches us it cannot win. In the US among some "liberal" Democrats (Kerry) and Republicans (McCain) there are calls to increase the number of troops in the colonial occupation. Other liberals and conservatives propose "internationalizing" the war, by sharing some authority with a pliant UN, in order to bring in 40-50,000 Hindus and Muslim troops from South Asia. The Bush coterie fears an added troop build-up will cost him the election; Rumsfeld wants more foreign troops but without ceding any powers or a monopoly say over the allocation of contracts, military strategy and oil extraction. The Bush regime and its amplifiers in the mass media keep recycling the notion that the resistance is simply "foreigners", "Al Queda agents", "remnants of the followers of Saddam Hussein" (or the Baath Party) - in other words, "marginal and insignificant forces which will be snuffed out in short order as the US forces comb the cities, villages, neighborhoods, aided by networks of informers and Iraqi colonial police.

These are colonial illusions, necessary to sustain public support in the face of a fast deteriorating situation. The US has not yet accepted that what preceded May 1 was a phony war, a media war that was won through an elite deal, a deal that allowed the US to conquer Iraq and left 25 million people out.

The new war has now gone on for 5 months - and the US has not progressed in lessening the attacks nor capturing strategic positions, because there is none - the resistance is everywhere. For the great majority of Iraqis the strategic political objective is the withdrawal of the US from Iraq and the dissolution of the client "interim regime". The new war is waged by a highly motivated guerrilla force, who are not directed from above and afar by armchair corrupt generals and threatened by a despotic ruler. They include thousands of former soldiers, including many military specialists. They include hundreds of thousands of civilians fed up with the daily humiliations, the door smashing midnight raids and abuse of their wives and daughters, who have taken up the gun or provide intelligence or logistic support to the fighters. They include millions of unemployed and impoverished laborers, farmers and professionals who have no future under US colonial rule.

As a journalist for the Financial Times reports, "US commanders may soon have to face the fact that they are facing a revolt by an entire region of Iraq, the Sunni Heartland". He goes on to quote an Iraqi member of the US-backed militia (Falluja Protection Force or FPF), " The whole city rejects the American occupation…The Mujahideen are inhabitants of the city…" He concluded that, "there appears (sic) to be a pattern of revenge against aggressive tactics used by the coalition (sic) in Fallujah and elsewhere." He cites a Captain of the FPF who stated that the resistance started in early May after the US forces massacred 15 peaceful demonstrators, killed a little girl and several other civilians." (Financial Times, Sept 25, 2003 p.6)

A few co-opted mullahs, a couple hundred imported colonized exiles and a few thousand police do not stand a chance against the rising seething mass of Iraqis who see every violent act directly related to the presence of the US military command. All the US media propaganda directed at Iraqis does not change the absolute misery of their everyday life, the humiliation of constant insults and threats pointed at them in the streets, in the markets and the arrogant forced submission of captured suspects hooded and shoved to the ground, a boot on their necks, a gun to their head, under the search lights of armored vehicles and helicopters. These "visual aids", routines of colonial rule, have unleashed reasoned hatred which only now has joined the war against imperialism.

Deals will still be made but they will benefit only a few - there is no longer a central command to execute orders or execute disobedient subjects. There are traitors and informers, but they are known by their neighbors and colleagues and are dealt with in the context of the anti-colonial resistance. There are no battlefronts - it is everywhere, on highways the mines are there because they were put there and detonated by local commandos; there is no 'Battle for Baghdad' - there will be a thousand and one battles in Baghdad - in every road, alleyway, apartment block and market place. There is no elite family to target, no leader to kill to end the war; there are millions of families and thousands of leaders. This is a new war. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had best be ready for a prolonged unwinnable war with daily casualties that over time will lead to their retirement from politics. Remember LBJ, remember Vietnam. High casualties mean the sleeping giant will finally awake.

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