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IRAQ and the USA

Desperately Seeking Victory

Tuesday 9 January 2007, by Phillys Bennis

Bush’s "new direction" speech will announce a major escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq. The move will be called a "surge," as if that actually represents a military strategy, but the euphemism disguises an ordinary, already tried and already failed escalation of the U.S. occupation. As has been true throughout the invasion and occupation, U.S. troops are the cause, not the solution, to violence in Iraq. More U.S. troops in Iraq mean more dead Iraqi civilians.

If, as anticipated, Bush claims 20,000 combat troops will be sent, it may mean as many as 75,000 all together since logistics, transport, medical, engineering and other support units will be required to keep an additional 20,000 acknowledged"combat" troops in the field.

While there may be a claim that the new deployments are linked directly to a specific "new strategy for victory," the reality is that the troops will be sent to "stabilize" Baghdad, a job that has already proved impossible as long as the U.S. occupation continues. The summer 2006 troop increase, which transferred about 15,000 additional soldiers to Baghdad, largely from other positions in Iraq, led to an immediate escalation in violence across the city.

The speech will also likely announce a new fund of about $1 billion to be sent to Iraq for some vague combination of job creation and reconstruction. The only details so far seem to be based on a wishful assumption that angry young Iraqi men will be delighted to go to work as pittance-paid street sweepers and garbage collectors for the U.S. occupation forces and the U.S.-backed government, and will immediately abandon their ties to the anti-occupation resistance. It is unlikely that the new allocation (from a so-far unknown U.S. government source) will be tied to any change in the existing profiteering-based contract system in which the vast majority of the billions allocated for "reconstruction" in Iraq has gone to U.S.-based contractors. It should be recognized that the U.S. owes a huge financial debt to Iraq -reparations for 12 years of crippling sanctions, real reconstruction of the invasion-destroyed infrastructure, compensation for the shredding of Iraq’s national life and social fabric - but that the U.S. cannot begin to make good on that obligation as long as the military occupation remains in place.

Bush’s speech will also likely feature an issue that has become more commonplace across Washington’s mainstream political spectrum in the last several months: Iraqis are responsible for their own crisis, and the Iraqi government better "stop relying" on U.S. forces for assistance. The reality, of course, is that the Green Zone-based parliament IS in fact dependent on the U.S. occupation forces for protection and for what little power it has; that reality has led to the situation in Baghdad today in which many parliamentarians elected on a strong anti-occupation platform abandoned that principle when they realized that their own position depended on the Americans. Many of those parliamentarians holding to an anti-occupation position today are doing so while boycotting participation in the parliament itself. But it remains an outrage Bush and other U.S. officials continue to assert that despite the U.S. invasion and occupation, the U.S. decisions to destroy Iraq’s army and dismiss its entire state apparatus, the collapse of the Iraqi economy, and the occupation-driven war itself, that it is only the Iraqis’ own lack of will that is responsible for their plight.

It appears that Bush is in the process of shifting focus from asserting that victory is at hand in Iraq to tamping down expectations and keeping an eye on this war in history, especially his own legacy.

The failure in Iraq is no longer a question; Bush himself now admits "we are not winning" in Iraq. Failure has been a constant; the difference now is that the lack of any options is so obvious that even key military leaders are rejecting the stay-the-course-but-add-a-bunch-more-soldiers-to-make-it-look-better strategy Bush is about to present.

Maintaining control of oil remains at the top of the U.S. agenda in Iraq. Despite the escalating war, and despite the problems facing Iraq’s parliament – including the weeks-long boycott by the 30 legislators loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr - Britain’s Independent on Sunday reported January 7 that Iraq is about to pass a law that would "give Western oil companies a massive share in the third largest reserves in the world. To the victors, the oil? That is how some experts view this unprecedented arrangement with a major Middle East oil producer that guarantees investors huge profits for the next 30 years."

According to the Independent, "critics fear that given Iraq’s weak bargaining position, it could get locked in now to deals on bad terms for decades to come." The law was crafted with the help of U.S. mercenaries from the BearingPoint corporation. "Its provisions are a radical departure from the norm for developing countries: under a system known as ’production-sharing agreements,’ or PSAs, oil majors such as BP and Shell in Britain, and Exxon and Chevron in the US, would be able to sign deals of up to 30 years to extract Iraq’s oil. PSAs allow a country to retain legal ownership of its oil, but gives a share of profits to the international companies that invest in infrastructure and operation of the wells, pipelines and refineries. Their introduction would be a first for a major Middle Eastern oil producer. Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world’s number one and two oil exporters, both tightly control their industries through state-owned companies with no appreciable foreign collaboration, as do most members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Opec."

* Bennis works with the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington