Iraq Occupation: Haunted by the Spectre of Vietnam?

October 2006 was a bad month for the imperial forces occupying Iraq . More than 70 American soldiers have already died this month, (most of them reportedly in sniper attacks in the city of Baghdad !). This takes the count of fatalities among the occupying troops past 3000 even at an official estimate, and the situation in the war-ravaged country has provoked even President Bush to accept comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam . In August this year, the United States and the US-sponsored Iraqi government deployed an extra 12,000 troops in Baghdad in the hope of quelling the resistance – only to be met by a 22 per cent increase in the attacks on the occupying forces during the past month! In 1968, 70,000 North Vietnamese soldiers launched the Tet offensive - and surged into more than one hundred towns and cities, including Saigon . The attack shook US imperialism to its roots and had a dramatic and lasting effect on US public opinion. Nearly four decades later, the Iraqi resistance is having the same impact on imperialist designs.

As the resistance continues, public opinion in the US is increasingly turning against the war - in a New York Times/CBS News poll taken early in October, two-thirds of respondents said they disapproved of the US handling of the war and that the war was going badly for the US. And public opinion is also forcing even the Bush and Blair administrations to rethink their plans – Bush family loyalist and co-chair of a study group on Iraq, James Baker, has suggested in a report that has been leaked to the press that the US should either approach Iran and Syria for help (conveniently redefining the “Axis of Terror”!) or else shift its military bases outside Iraq. While these recommendations are a far shot from a complete and unconditional withdrawal from Iraq , and while they signify a desperate effort to wash hands off a serious and ever-growing problem, they also signify a real fear of another Vietnam . Similarly, British army officers are now calling for withdrawal of British forces from Iraq . British General Dannett recently said that the British should get themselves out “some time soon” because their presence exacerbates the “security problems” .

One of the reasons for growing disapproval of the war is a study by three doctors from the John Hopkins University , which was recently published in the British medical journal, Lancet. The study has estimated that the number of extra fatalities caused by the war is around 6,55,000 - which is approximately 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi population. While it is officially accepted that the war claims around a 100 people in Iraq every day , this study has made it even more difficult for the occupying forces to justify their presence. The study, using statistical techniques, claims that between 3,93,000 and 9,43,000 extra deaths have occurred in Iraq because of the war. While this is a wide range, even the lower figure is about 10 times higher than the official American and British records.

Numbers alone, of course, cannot describe the horrors that the US-British occupation has inflicted on Iraqi society. The brutal gang rape and murder of 14-year old Abeer Hamza Qasim is one of the most emotive atrocities committed during the US-led occupation of Iraq . After being raped, she was killed along with her parents and her sister, and her body was set on fire in an attempt to hide evidence. Earlier this month, the US government announced that four soldiers of the US Army are to be court-martialed for this case.

Abeer's rape and murder in many cases signifies the occupation and the sham behind the Bush-Blair rhetoric of wanting to bring “freedom” and “democracy” to the Iraqis. Her murderers cannot be tried by an Iraqi court, for all the talk about Iraqi “self-governance”. War crimes by the US army can only be tried in a US military court.

We are all familiar with the blatant human rights violations being perpetuated by the US Army at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay . The US government had always maintained that the atrocities were the handiwork of a handful of errant officers, and that their actions did not have official sanction. A few weeks back, George Bush finally decided to do away with any pretence – he admitted that the CIA was secretly interrogating “suspected terrorists” overseas. And now, he has signed legislation authorizing “tough interrogation” of “terror suspects” and “smoothing” the way for their trials before military commissions, calling it a “vital tool” in the war against terrorism. So now, US army-sponsored terror is legal!

Therefore, while Bush and Blair might be under a lot of pressure to change their Iraq policy, most of the pressure of course being generated because of the Iraqi resistance, and while they might consequently make a few conciliatory gestures, they are not going to easily give up their imperialist war against Iraq . Bush recently told his Republican colleagues that he is not going to withdraw from Iraq even if Laura (his wife) and Barney (his family dog) were his only supporters! His arrogance and his determination to continue with his imperialist dreams simply mean that the rest of the world will have to intensify its struggle against imperialism.

- Radhika Krishnan