Vandals of the 21st century
By Alan Woods
Baghdad lies shattered and bleeding. The bloody battle appears to be entering a decisive phase. The final result was never in doubt, but the time scale over which the military action would unfold and the cost in lives could only be revealed by the march of events. Just as in metallurgy the resistivity of steel can only be proved under pressure, so the power of resistance of the Iraqis to the American and British onslaught could only be revealed in combat.
The situation is quite clear. The Americans were alarmed by the unexpectedly fierce Iraqi resistance in the south and centre, which provoked a crisis within the administration, with angry attacks of the Pentagon against Rumsfeld for his gross underestimation of the potential for resistance. They demanded, and got, large troop reinforcements. At the same time, fearing a large number of deaths among the attacking forces inside Baghdad, the US high command decided to employ a massive amount of firepower, to bomb, smash and obliterate everything in its path, irrespective of the civilian casualties.
The tremendous firepower of the US army has been concentrated on the helpless Iraqi people, whose armed forces had nothing remotely comparable with which to respond. One event can serve as an example. In a move towards the Tigris from the north at least 50 Iraqi fighters were reported killed and two US soldiers were wounded. Iraqi commanders sent buses and lorries filled with fighters across the Tigris river to attack American troops guarding a main intersection. But US forces strafed the Iraqis from planes overhead and with mortar and artillery fire. The Iraqi troops launched a fierce counter-attack on enemy forces, which were steadily tightening their grip on much of the city centre but were thrown back by overwhelmingly superior numbers and firepower.
The superiority of US air power made this a very uneven struggle. Against this kind of military might, courage is not enough. As the US forces approached Baghdad there was still fierce resistance, though the US controlled media have tried to deny this. One US general is reported to have described the Iraqi soldiers as "cowards". But the real cowards are those who fight wars without ever seeing an enemy, dropping bombs from a great height, hiding behind colossal technological superiority - these so-called "heroes" who declare war only on the weak, who are very brave when fighting an enfeebled and largely disarmed Iraq, but are mortally afraid to take on North Korea.
These "heroes" were terrified by the Iraqi resistance in the south, and were not even prepared to set foot in Baghdad before it had been pulverised by vicious and indiscriminate air strikes. Even so, they have suffered an undisclosed number of losses before Baghdad. The fact that they are not prepared to give the casualty figures tells its own story. Even so, some details of Coalition losses have emerged. At least one A-10 tankbuster aircraft, one of dozens used to strafe Iraqi forces, was downed by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile. Another American fighter jet was reported to have been shot down near the northern Iraqi stronghold of Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein, and a possible centre of continued resistance.
The Independent (April 9) reported that, "Whatever [the Americans] wanted to claim, it was clear that Iraqi forces had put up something of a fight, and indeed were still fighting last night - at least in the east of the city. The area surrounding the four bridges over the river Diyala has seen particularly fierce fighting in recent days. Two of the bridges visited yesterday by The Independent had been destroyed. The surrounding areas were littered with burnt-out vehicles and damaged buildings and the roads were covered in spent cartridge cases."
US forces advanced street by street, meeting sporadic but fierce resistance. But Iraqi small arms and rocket launchers were no match against bombers and tanks that blasted their way through the city with absolutely no regard for civilian lives or property. All the lies about "humanitarianism", "smart bombs" and "not targeting civilians" have been exposed before the public opinion of the world as so much disgusting hypocrisy and cynicism. Among the "non-civilian targets" destroyed by American bombs were the electricity supplies and water pumps that kept a city of five million inhabitants supplied with the minimum requirements of a semi-civilised existence.
The main hospital in Baghdad was attempting to cope with a massive flood of victims with no light or water. People were desperately struggling to bring water to the hospital in one-litre bottles. The doctors had already abandoned all attempts to count the numbers of casualties - the overwhelming majority civilians. Since there was no disinfectant, the stench from stale blood and open wounds was overpowering. Such are the first gifts which the humanitarian and civilised "liberators" of Baghdad have brought to the people of Iraq.
Nobody any longer believes that the imperialist forces do not deliberately bomb civilian targets. According to one report up to 25% of the buildings of Baghdad have been either damaged or destroyed. Yesterday they bombed the building where Al Jazeera television was based. This television channel has kept the world informed about the reality of this brutal war of aggression against Iraq. It has now paid the price. The Americans clearly regarded it as a fair military target. They killed at least one journalist, who, by coincidence, had previously worked for CNN. Robert Fisk, a fearlessly honest reporter, confirmed that the Al Jazeera offices were deliberately targetted by an American tank, which continued firing even after the building was destroyed:
"Just an hour later, one of the tanks on the Jumhuriya Bridge fired a shell into the wreckage. Eighteen civilians - 15 of them women - were reported to be still hiding in the basement last night with no immediate hope of rescue." (The Independent, April 9)
Nor did the attack on the press cease there. The office of Abu Dhabi television was also bombed, and the Palestine hotel where most of the press corps was based was shelled by an American tank. At the subsequent official "press briefing", brigadier general Vincent Brown denied that this was deliberate targeting. But the value of these denials was exposed in the question and answer session that followed.
When asked why the hotel had been shelled, Brown replied that "Coalition forces had been fired on from the hotel lobby." The next question was: if the shots were fired from the lobby, why did the tank fire at an upper storey? And what does this say about the accuracy of the shooting by Coalition forces, and what implications did this have for civilian casualties? The general replied that, well, maybe he was mistaken about the lobby, and maybe the shots were fired from another place. However, another journalist pointed out that those inside the hotel insisted that no shots had been fired. At which point, the general proceeded to other business.
The cold cruelty of the imperialists was shown by Robert Fisk, who reported that the International Red Cross had tried to arrange a convoy out of Baghdad; but that, inexplicably, the Americans had refused it passage from the city: "At one point, Red Cross workers hoped to take a severely wounded Spanish television reporter with them - his leg had been amputated after the tank shell exploded below his office in the hotel - but he died during the afternoon. The American infantry divisional commander issued a statement that suggested the Reuters cameramen were sniping at the US tank, a remark so extraordinary - and so untrue - that it brought worldwide protests from journalists."
Fisk continues: "Was it possible to believe this was an accident? Or was it possible that the right word for these killings - the first with a jet aircraft, the second with an M1A1 Abrams tank - was murder? These were not, of course, the first journalists to die in the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Terry Lloyd of ITV was shot dead by American troops in southern Iraq, who apparently mistook his car for an Iraqi vehicle. His crew are still missing. Michael Kelly of The Washington Post tragically drowned in a canal. Two journalists have died in Kurdistan. Two journalists - a German and a Spaniard - were killed on Monday night at a US base in Baghdad, with two Americans, when an Iraqi missile exploded amid them.
"And we should not forget the Iraqi civilians who are being killed and maimed by the hundred and who - unlike their journalist guests - cannot leave the war and fly home. So the facts of yesterday should speak for themselves. Unfortunately for the Americans, they make it look very like murder."
The purpose of this barbarity is quite clear: the butchers of Baghdad do not want any witnesses to their crimes. As retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor put it, "There's nothing sacrosanct about a hotel with a bunch of journalists in it." (April 9, 2003, MSNBC)
According to Bush, "Our armed services are conducting themselves with great courage and, at the same time, great humanity. I'm proud of our forces. I'm proud of the British forces." (speaking in Northern Ireland, April 8, 2003). He continues to peddle this idea of the "humanitarian" approach of the US military, but some of his own officers and soldiers are more open about what they are really doing. Captain Chris Wachter, B-1 Pilot, when he was asked about what goes through his head when he is ordered to bomb, replied, "As to who the target is, we don't necessarily care about that. We follow the orders that we're given, drop the targets that we need to hit." (April 8, 2003). That is what the US army, like all armies, is trained to do - kill! They are not trained to help old ladies cross the road. Stephen Eagle Funk, 20 years old, was the first American conscientious objector, and he explained the kind of training he recieved: "Every day in combat training you had to yell out 'Kill! Kill!' and we would get into trouble if you didn't shout it out." (April 1, 2003)
Is guerrilla war possible?
The continuous and devastating bombardment of the city centre compelled the defending forces to retreat. The prospects for the war itself are now uncertain. The Iraqi army has received a body blow from which it will be difficult to recover. Whether they have been entirely eliminated as an effective fighting force remains to be seen. But any prospect of open warfare now seems remote. If the resistance is able to regroup, its actions will consist of small-scale guerrilla strikes, bombings and ambushes. However, the experience of the US army in Lebanon and Somalia means that this is a disturbing prospect. Not for nothing is Washington continuing to warn that unforeseen dangers may lie ahead.
The regime evidently calculated that it could wage a guerrilla campaign from inside the cities. The Americans and British certainly took this threat very seriously, and it is still possible. The whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi leadership are still unknown. And the Americans can still meet with what they call "pockets of resistance" that can last some time and cause them more losses than they have suffered so far.
It is difficult to imagine what is going on in the minds of President Saddam's inner circle as US soldiers penetrate the heart of Baghdad. The great siege promised with the Special Republican Guard fighting it out to the last bullet has not materialised. Whether that signifies that the regime has collapsed, or is regrouping for another type of conflict, it is too early to say. But it is clear in any event that the first phase of the war is over, and a period of great uncertainty and instability has begun. The decisive question here, as always, is the question of morale. So far, it seems the leading group has held together. But in the present circumstances it is always possible that a section of the ruling elite might choose to save its skin by an act of betrayal. The CIA is betting on this, but in the past they have always been disappointed. Meanwhile there is still no sign of Saddam Hussein.
The Americans are still pursuing their aim of removing their hated enemy by the simple expedient of murder (or "taking out", as they say in the latest Washington newspeak). Four 2,000lb bombs obliterated a restaurant believed to be used for a meeting by Saddam Hussein. Although British intelligence sources said he escaped "by minutes," US officials were unable to confirm last night whether he was killed. But the Iraqi authorities say at least nine people, including a child, were killed and four wounded. At least four houses were flattened. It is clear from pictures of the damage that nobody in the wrecked building could have survived Monday's deep penetrating bombing which left a 20 metre crater. There were local reports of surrounding homes being destroyed and several civilian bodies being pulled from the rubble. Iraqi rescue workers said up to 14 civilians were killed, including a child.
That the regime is not yet extinct is shown by the fact that they still have the possibility to broadcast, at least over the radio. The state television station had failed to broadcast a morning news bulletin, showing only old film of President Saddam being cheered at rallies. The radio also went silent briefly, but returned with songs praising President Saddam. This suggests that some elements of the regime still exist. There has been no surrender, and a significant number of Republican guards and other elements have melted into the population. It is possible that they will resort to urban guerrilla warfare, or it may be that the shattering blow dealt by the invading forces has caused so much demoralisation that effective resistance is no longer possible. However, even in that case, the occupying forces will face low-level guerrilla activity and the possibility of terrorist acts, assassinations and suicide bombings, not for months but years.
As we are writing there are still reports coming in of fierce resistance in West Baghdad. The most striking things about the last couple of days has been the melting away of regular army and Republican Guard divisions. It is also clear that the central command was no longer guiding the forces on the ground. In spite of this resistance has continued. This would indicate that are pockets of spontaneous resistance by isolated groups of soldiers or even ordinary people. According to an Italian Indymedia reporter stationed in Baghdad in the early hours of this morning renewed fighting had broken out in different parts of the city, and it is worth quoting one important thing that she says: "…Hard, but one-sided clashes. The marines are facing men and boys, armed with light weapons and even Molotov cocktails. They [the marines] reply with cannons and machine gun fire that spray the fronts of the buildings with thousands of bullets that smash the windows that have been pointlessly covered in tape."
The attitude of the population
This detail is important. The decisive question is the attitude of the Iraqi population. The imperialists talk of "winning hearts and minds". But after the terrible injuries they have inflicted upon the people of Iraq, this is a dream. The brutality of the imperialists, their complete unconcern for human life, has earned them the hatred not just of the majority of Iraqis but of the peoples of the whole Middle East and of civilised people everywhere. The feelings of millions were summed up by Dima Ayoub, the widow of the dead Al Jazeera reporter, who warned that "hatred breeds hatred".
Systematically, remorselessly, the occupying forces are destroying everything in their path. In so doing they are creating the conditions for anarchy. The last remaining fabric of a semi-civilised existence is being smashed to pieces. In some suburbs of Baghdad there have been scenes of chaos, anarchy and looting. Also in Basra British forces struggled to control looting and civil disorder. There are reports that government offices, shops and the UN building were being raided by civilians who took away furniture and food. TV pictures showed looters emerging from official buildings in the centre of Baghdad clutching furniture, fridges - anything they could carry. The hungry and desperate city poor are taking advantage of the collapse of order to seize anything and everything that can be sold to obtain the necessities of life. Among these are the usual lumpenproletarian and criminal elements who always rejoice at the prospect of social breakdown and looting.
In the middle of all this, however, there is also a little private initiative on the part of some of the US "liberators", as the following quote clearly shows, "American soldiers who reached the gold- and blue-domed palace used the toilets, rifled through document in the bombed-out compound and helped themselves to ashtrays, pillows, gold, gold-painted Arab glassware and other souvenirs." (MSNBC News, April 7, 2003).
The British and American occupying forces have attempted to present these scenes of "rejoicing" as proof that the ordinary people are welcoming them. This is nonsense. The people are desperate for an end to the bombing and shelling that has turned their lives into a hell. They are in urgent need of food and water. Since the Americans and British are the only ones who can provide these things, they must necessarily go to them, and if necessary put on a friendly face, or at least conceal their real feelings. But when some American soldiers foolishly tried to raise the American flag in Baghdad they were met with noisy protests by the local people who demanded that the Iraqi flag be flown.
The propaganda of the American and British invaders to the effect that they are being welcomed as liberators by the Iraqi people is utterly false. If you wish to see how people really welcome a liberating army, just look at the old film coverage of the French or Italian people welcoming the Allied forces in 1944-45. Practically the whole population of city after city was out to welcome the incoming troops. The streets were crowded with cheering people, happiness and enthusiasm written all over their faces, there was dancing in the street, and the victorious soldiers were garlanded with flowers.
None of these things can be seen in Iraq. It is interesting to note what we are actually being shown on our TV screens. We have no camera shots from high up panning out over squares or main highways. The pictures are always of small areas. If there were scenes like those we quoted from the Second World War you can be sure that they would show us.
This leads us to believe what the Italian Indymedia journalist (quoted above) had to say about the so-called "celebrations" and the pulling down of the statue of Saddam Hussein. She says: "The Party is over. The "liberators" have climbed back into their tanks and armoured vehicles… The 150/200 Iraqi youths, who had served as extras for the celebrations in Paradise Square that had just been transmitted worldwide, have vanished. They have gone back to their homes where there is no water or electricity, but with the food parcels that had been given to them by the US army storekeepers."
This Italian journalist was not satisfied with simply watching the events in the square. She decided to go down the back streets and see what the mood was there. She found a completely different picture: "The armoured vehicles and tanks were positioned to block the road and their cannons were aimed against hundreds of civilians who were not at all keen on joining the "celebrations". A little further down the road she witnessed an exchange of fire, with US soldiers chasing men and women, and opening fire with their machine guns. She saw tanks rumbling onto the pavements crushing everything in front of them, cars, bicycles, carts, etc.
Thus what we see in Iraq today is the reluctant acceptance of the inevitable and a desire on the part of a section of the population to please the stronger side. Men and women must eat, and they must feed their families. This is a reality of life. Of course, Iraqi society is very heterogeneous and contradictory. The repressive and corrupt nature of Saddam Hussein's regime means that many will welcome his downfall. The first reports that Iraqi civilians were showing their defiance of the regime came from Saddam City, a poor Shiite district in the east of the capital. Iraq's Shiites have suffered persecution at the hands of Saddam's regime. Yes, these people have no love for Saddam Hussein, but that does not mean that they like the idea of American occupation any better.
A conquering army will also always find collaborators. There are always those elements who are always on the winning side. Many members of the old regime will change their jackets and put themselves at the service of the new power. Many middle class and professional people will hope that the change of regime will bring something positive. Many more will just wait and see.
About a week ago British television showed the scene of a British army officer entering a doctor's clinic in a small town near Basra. The doctor was clearly terrified, as the British officer curtly announced that he had come to liberate him. The officer then climbed on a chair and took down the portrait of Saddam Hussein that was hanging on the wall. The doctor tried to smile nervously but this only made him seem even more terrified than before.
It is quite possible that this doctor was no supporter of Saddam Hussein. But at that precise moment, the sight of a foreign soldier climbing onto his chair and removing a portrait from his wall his inner feelings must have been a mixture of fear, anger, humiliation and impotence. These feelings must now exist in the hearts of many Iraqis.
Serious commentators are under no illusion about the significance of this "welcome". The Independent comments: "What do the Iraqis really think of the arrival of the Americans? General Mattis said he had been delighted to see the crowds of cheering civilians, but then again the people of Cambodia had initially cheered the Khmer Rouge when they rolled into Phnom Penh. Are they really cheering when the troops are not there to watch?"
The attitude of many Iraqis was summed up in the following quote from The Independent: "Saddam is no good. We want freedom," Casir Hassan, a young mechanic, said. A slightly older man, Shaqir Ayyad, a teacher, said: "Short time, America OK. Long time, no."
The vultures are circling
But once the big US corporations get their claws into the riches of Iraq they will not leave in a hurry. The stage will be set for a renewal of the anti-imperialist struggle. When the crude realities of US occupation begin to dawn on the people, the mood of suppressed anger will find its expression in hostile acts. The Americans have had some experience of this sort of thing in Lebanon and Somalia. In Afghanistan the fighting is still going on, like a nagging toothache - and with no end in sight. The future of the US occupying forces in Iraq is even more uncertain.
The imperial forces that have now entered Baghdad behave like arrogant conquerors, not liberators. The Bush administration has already distributed the spoils of conquest. The contracts for rebuilding what they themselves have torn down in Iraq were awarded to American construction companies many months ago. The oilfields, which they were quick to grab in the first days of the war, will be divided up among American oil corporations, who will kindly keep them "in trust" for the Iraqi people. The latter will get them back again - once all the bills have been paid. But this will take a long, long time. In the meantime, Iraq's considerable oil wealth will be entirely at the disposal of the Americans.
The vultures are already circling over the bleeding body of Iraq even before it is dead. The Americans intend to take the lion's share for themselves. It is not even clear to what extent they will be prepared to share this wealth with their British "allies". Having loyally served the interests of US imperialism, the poodle Blair will receive a kick in the teeth for his reward. The old saying holds good: friendship is friendship, but business is business.
Behind the scenes there is a furious struggle between the US and European imperialists. The French and Germans (and also the British) do not want to be frozen out of the lucrative profits that will be made out of Iraqi reconstruction. Therefore they are frantically waving the flag of the United Nations, which, they insist, must play a "key role" in postwar Iraq. This is code for saying: "We want to have a little bit of the loot, too."
Puffed up with their sense of power, the US imperialists answer with a cynical smile: certainly, dear friends, the UN can play SOME role in postwar Iraq - it (i.e. YOU) can pay all the bills. But WE will be in complete command and will take all the profits. The stage is set for further bitter quarrels, as the rival gangs of imperialist robbers argue over the division of the world, while millions of people suffer the consequences.
Vandals of the 21st century
When the Taliban destroyed some ancient Buddhist statues with artillery, the western world expressed shock and outrage. This kind of behaviour was said to place the Afghan regime beyond the bounds of civilised nations. We do not yet know what damage has been done to the priceless historical monuments of Iraq - one of the world's oldest civilisations. We do not know how many museums have been reduced to rubble, how many valuable artefacts and works of art have been destroyed. We do not know how much of the cultural heritage of the world has vanished forever.
But this we do know: that by its actions American imperialism stands exposed as the most barbarous and counterrevolutionary force on the face of the earth. Beneath the smiling mask of "civilisation" and "democracy" lies a vicious and rapacious dictatorship of the banks and big corporations whose only aim in life is to plunder and rape the entire world. We know that behind all the saccharine lies about "peace" and "humanitarianism" lies a monstrous military-industrial complex that grows fat on the wealth produced by society which ought to provide the basis for universal prosperity and happiness, and is instead wasted on wars, murder and destruction. These people care nothing for the lives of human beings, either from their own country or other nations. Why should they care about the achievements of thousands of years of culture? Compared to Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell and their generals, the Taliban were innocent little children.
The American General Blount boasted just over a month ago that his crews would be using depleted uranium munitions - the kind many believe to be responsible for an explosion of cancers after the 1991 Gulf War - in their tanks. They have also used cluster bombs against civilian targets, which is supposed to be illegal. And these same gentlemen who torture prisoners and keep them in barbarous conditions in Guantanamo Bay had the brazen insolence to accuse the Iraqis of "violating the Geneva Convention" when they showed some Coalition prisoners on television. Surely, the hypocrisy of these people knows no bounds.
One other striking fact. Of the famous "weapons of mass destruction" there is no sign. The American controlled media make a big fuss about the discovery of chemical weapons suits and gas masks. But these are for defensive purposes and are issued to virtually every army in the world. If no evidence of these weapons has been produced, then the whole justification for the present military adventure falls to the ground. And after so much time, even if some such evidence is produced, there will be the suspicion that it has been conveniently planted by the CIA. Nobody will give any credit to the lies from London and Washington. The liars have overreached themselves too often in recent weeks and months. Nobody is fooled any more. The whole affair stands exposed for what it is: a naked act of imperialist aggression against a weak Middle Eastern country.
The appetite of the imperialists for foreign markets, raw materials and spheres of influence is insatiable. This is an expression of the impasse of capitalism on a world scale, which compels them to struggle for every market like dogs fighting over a bone. In the present epoch wars are inevitable, and they will succeed each other at regular intervals. To complain about this and to issue tearful pleas for peace is a waste of time. It is like trying to persuade a man-eating tiger to eat grass. The only way to prevent war is by disarming the capitalist class, and this can only be achieved by revolutionary means. The anti-war movement must be transformed into a mass movement against imperialism and capitalism, or it will be doomed to impotence.
In the first decade of the 21st century the wheel of history has turned full circle. The methods of the imperialists resemble the policy of war, conquest and plunder pursued by the Roman Empire, only on a vastly greater scale. In the words of the Roman historian Tacitus: "And when they have created a wilderness, they call it Peace."
Vienna, April 9, 2003.
Baghdad - a second Beirut? By Roberto Sarti (April 9, 2003).
What is to be done?- The current situation and the tasks of the Marxists. By Alan Woods (April 3, 2003).
Iraqi resistance is turning into an anti-imperialist war. By Fred Weston (April 3, 2003)
"Democracy" in America. By John Peterson, editor of Socialist Appeal USA (April 1, 2003).
The war is not going according to plan. By Fred Weston (March 26, 2003)
The Ministry of Truth (on watching the "news" on CNN). By Alan Woods (March 21, 2003)
On the outbreak of war - The hounds are unleashed. By Alan Woods (March 20, 2002)