Democratic presidential contender John Kerry captured what many Americans — including an unprecedented array of military commanders and leading Republicans — are saying about Iraq, when he charged that George W. Bush has created “a chaos that has left America less secure.”

Thousands of miles away from the White House, the disastrous catastrophe that is Bush’s war is epitomized in the fear and anger now pervasive among the Iraqi people. On the one hand, car bombs, mortars and grenades are shattering busy shopping streets, killing and maiming civilians going about their daily errands, or blasting into lines of unemployed workers lining up for jobs as police officers or to join the Iraqi national guard. On the other hand, U.S. air attacks are destroying homes and killing women and children in the name of pursuing terrorists.

U.S. aggression fuels chaos

The marked deterioration in the situation was triggered in April when the White House and Pentagon ordered aggressive moves to tighten U.S. control. These included a major assault on the city of Fallujah, and a harsh clampdown on what was then a relatively minor extremist cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. Now, the general who commanded the Marine assault has said he opposed the action as well as the Bush “flip-flop” three days later ordering a pullout.

In a renewed effort to clamp down, perhaps to help Bush’s reelection prospects, U.S. forces have bombed Fallujah almost daily for the past two weeks, according to the Washington Post. Military spokespersons are now citing “body counts” of supposed terrorist suspects killed in these attacks, but they leave out the scores of ordinary people killed. The airstrikes don’t discriminate — old people, children, houses, shops are mangled and destroyed, leaving a festering bitterness and despair.

Reacting to Bush’s assertion that his policies are making things better in Iraq, Middle East scholar Juan Cole asks, “What would America look like if it were in Iraq’s current situation? … [V]iolence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on Sept. 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll. And what if those deaths occurred all over the country?”

Shameful ‘reconstruction’

One-and-a-half years after the U.S. invasion, unemployment in Iraq is over 50 percent, sewage fills many streets, and basic services like electricity and clean water are in short supply. Of the $18.4 billion that Congress approved last fall for Iraq’s reconstruction, only about $1 billion has been spent. Of that, most has gone to line the pockets of U.S. companies like Halliburton, with little meaningful results on the ground.

Thabit Abdullah, a history professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, left Iraq 25 years ago, fleeing Saddam Hussein’s repression. He returned for a visit earlier this year. He speaks angrily of the “incredible, shameful shambles” of the U.S. reconstruction program, and the “unprecedented looting” of the country by U.S. corporations.

“It’s capitalism gone wild,” he told the World. He described the process: American corporations obtained lavish no-bid Pentagon contracts, then subcontracted them for a fraction of the contract amount, pocketing the vast difference without having to do any actual work. He cited the example of a clinic he visited in southern Iraq. It needed some repairs worth about $1,000. A U.S. firm got a $100,000 contract, then subcontracted the work to a local business for a tiny portion of that amount. In many cases, the work never gets done.

Abdullah visited five schools the U.S. claimed to have repaired. “They were a mess,” he reported in an online diary, “The only thing that was done in each one of the schools was that they got a new coat of paint. The desks were broken, some classes had no blackboards, and in almost all cases the schoolyard looked more like a garbage dump.”

Behind the armed groups

By all accounts, there has been a marked increase in violent actions by groups with varying agendas. Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) spokesperson Salam Ali said these groups have gained momentum as a result of the U.S. occupation.

A resurgence of former Baathists is causing wide concern in Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s fascist-like security organization was left untouched, and the military skill of some recent armed actions indicates this apparatus is playing a major role, Iraqis say. In staunchly Sunni areas like Fallujah, some feel threatened by the emerging power of Shia groups, and although they themselves are not Baathist, they are susceptible to nationalist appeals of the old Baathist forces, Abdullah says.

Ali, a member of the ICP Central Committee, believes the former Baathists are aiming to “eventually strike a deal with the U.S. to share power,” through securing positions in security forces or other government institutions. Delaying and disrupting the scheduled elections helps advance their agenda, he said.

Ali noted the armed resistance movement is gradually metamorphosing and differentiating, with Moqtada al-Sadr currently backing off from armed actions in favor of some kind of political role, while various extreme Islamic groups are now openly advocating an Islamic government and calling for a pan-Islam movement to topple Arab regimes and liberate Jerusalem.

An example of the kind of armed groups now emerging in Iraq: a Kurdish newspaper, Al-Ittihad, reports a terrorist group called al-Jihad al-Islami has threatened to attack Iraqi universities if the government allows coeducation in colleges and universities.

The path ahead

The ICP’s Ali traces the violence and chaos back to the U.S. invasion and its refusal to hand over political power to Iraq, under UN auspices, right at the start of the war.

“Now, the situation is much worse,” he told the World. “The Iraqi people are paying the price.”

The United Nations Security Council last fall approved a process leading to a constitutionally elected Iraqi government. Now, some in the U.S. talk of postponing a first round of elections scheduled for January. But major Iraqi political forces insist that the elections, even with limitations, are the only alternative to further chaos and a return to authoritarian rule.

“Otherwise we continue the process of appointing people, ‘cooking things’ behind closed doors,” Ali said. He warned that acts of sabotage under the banner of “resistance” are likely to escalate as the elections approach. The worsening security makes it very difficult to organize grassroots political action. People are afraid to go out, afraid to attend meetings, he said.

Some well-connected U.S. figures are floating an alternative “exit-strategy” — a “three-state solution” for Iraq, dividing the country along ethnic-religious lines into a Kurdish state in the north, a Shiite Islamic state in the south, and a Sunni-based state between.

Ali called this “effectively a model for dismembering the country … without even bothering to let the Iraqi people decide their own destiny with their free will.” While claiming that Iraq is an artificially created state, proponents of this idea are actually advocating imposing another colonial solution in the 21st century, he said.

Ali and others knowledgeable about Iraq say advocates of a three-state breakup of Iraq wrongly present Sunnis and Shiites as monolithic entities. Those who do this are “overlooking and deliberately ignoring the more complex reality.” He noted that the Kurdish nationalist parties have chosen to support a unified democratic and federal Iraq as a realistic, practical solution for their concerns.

Polarizing the country along ethnic or religious lines is a recipe for disaster, Ali said. “We need a high level of unity to do away with the occupation. That is our number one priority.”

Nov. 2 is referendum on the war

As Kerry issued a stinging rebuke of Bush’s war policies, several prominent Republican senators broke ranks with Bush on Iraq. Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel went on CBS’s “Face the Nation” to call for “recalibration of policy,” saying, “We’re in deep trouble in Iraq.” Arizona Sen. John McCain said, “We made serious mistakes,” and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar spoke of administration “incompetence.”

But these are not just simple mistakes or miscalculations, Kerry charged. Bush’s errors were “colossal failures of judgment” with “terrible consequences.”

Iraqi observers and some U.S. commentators believe that if Bush is re-elected, he will order escalated military operations in Iraq, further pushing that country into chaos and fanning terrorism globally.

Long-time peace activist and former California state Senator Tom Hayden said recently that the November presidential election will be a referendum on Bush’s Iraq war. It remains for the American grass roots to make that referendum a powerful voice for a change in direction.

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.