By Clive Bradley
At the end of May, less than a month after George W Bush had declared the war in Iraq officially over, US soldiers arrived in a poor, notoriously dangerous suburb of Baghdad offering to help the local people set up a council to run their affairs. On June 2, five local councillors were elected. One of them, Majid Muhammed Yousef, a Kurd, who topped the poll, told the International Occupation Watch Centre, that he had been reluctant to participate because he didn't trust the Americans: "It's like Palestine or Beirut," he said. "No one likes to see their country occupied."
But he was pushed forward by his neighbours as a natural leader. On 7 June, the five council members turned up at the place they had been given to meet by the US military. They were told the meeting had been cancelled.
Then Majid was asked to do a survey of the neighbourhood's problems and suggest solutions - including (which he was not happy about) an inventory of the weapons people had in their homes. Still, the council completed its report on 11 June.
The occupying authorities told them, without explanation, that the council had been disbanded. "Perhaps we made too many suggestions," Majid commented. "Or perhaps this is democracy, American-style."
It is not only Iraqis, including those prepared to work with the occupying authorities, who are raising questions about "democracy, American-style". Tim Predmore is an American soldier serving near Mosul in northern Iraq. Describing Operation Iraqi Freedom as "the great modern lie", he writes:
"So what is our purpose here? Was this invasion because of weapons of mass destruction, as we have so often heard? If so, where are they? Did we invade to dispose of a leader and his regime because they were closely associated with Osama bin Laden? If so, where is the proof?
"Or is it that our incursion is about our own economic advantage? ... This looks like a modern-day crusade not to free an oppressed people or to rid the world of a demonic dictator relentless in his pursuit of conquest and domination, but a crusade to control another nation's natural resource. Oil - at least to me - seems to be the reason for our presence...
"I once believed that I was serving for a cause - 'to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States'. Now I no longer believe that." (The Guardian 19 September, a version of an article from the Peoria Morning Star, Illinois).
Throughout the United States, criticism of an occupation which has cost nearly 100 American lives since it officially ended has been growing. The Bush administration faces a serious political dilemma.
Iraq is in chaos. One hundred and fifty thousand American troops are there - growing increasingly unpopular and unable to restore the most minimal order, or get the electricity, the phones and the water working. Ordinary Iraqis are afraid to leave their homes. Women are raped and abducted; young men are murdered by the growing criminal gangs.
It will cost, according to the US government, $87 billion to get Iraq back on its feet. According to Donald Rumsfeld it already costs nearly $4 billion a month to support US efforts in Iraq.
For the neo-conservative pundits who theorised the war for Bush, promising quick military victory and a democratic reconstruction which would reshape the Middle East, such sums are not a problem. For a president seeking re-election in 2004, they clearly are.
But allowing the occupation to drift, to continue to be ineffectual - yet to claim the lives of US soldiers - would be political suicide also. Which way will Bush jump?
The 25-member unelected "ruling council" which was set up by the American occupation worries Washington will abandon them. Ahmed Chalabi, the most prominent figure in the council, currently on a visit to the US, is urging his sponsors to give the council real power, for example over the country's finances. This marks a shift in the attitude of the council itself, which is becoming more and more critical of its American backers. Washington, for its part, doubts that the council has enough support in the country to justify giving it such power.
Cracks are showing high up in the United States. There are signs of confusion among the neo-cons, and rifts between the "think tank" and Capitol Hill.
"All of us surely understand that, but for the president, we wouldn't be arguing about postwar Iraq - we would still be arguing about what to do with Saddam," said Thomas Donnelly, an [American Enterprise Institute] scholar and senior fellow at the Project for the New American Century, the influential rightwing group whose founding signatories include Dick Cheney, the vice-president, Mr Rumsfeld, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. "But having got rid of the guy, we're now understanding that regime change is a much larger undertaking than we thought it was." (The Guardian September 23).
In a debate among Democratic presidential candidates this week, Senator Bob Graham of Florida said he might support the administration's request for $87 billion in new funds for Iraq, but added: "I will not support a dime to protect the profits of Halliburton in Iraq." (Dow Jones Newswires 11 September). Halliburton is an American company with links to Vice President Dick Cheney. It was awarded contracts for the "reconstruction" of Iraq without competitive bidding. It currently, for example, imports fuel to oil-rich Iraq at a cost (to the US tax payer) of $6 million a day. Its contract with the Army Field Support command is estimated to be worth $1 billion.
In Iraq itself, the extent of hostility to the US - and British - forces in Iraq varies from town to town. In Falluja, where there have been a number of incidents in which American soldiers have killed civilians, 90% polled want the occupiers to leave. A recent Gallup poll in Baghdad, however, revealed that nearly two thirds believe the removal of Saddam Hussein was worth the hardships they have endured. Only 8% believed their lives will be worse in five years as a result of the war; 28% thought the Americans were doing a good job (as against 25% who thought it was doing a bad one). (New York Times, 24 September).
But violent opposition to the occupation continues. Much of it, clearly, comes from supporters of the old regime. But some of the Islamist groups also - in particular that associated with Muqtada al-Sadr (the most militant Islamist movement) - could be moving towards physical confrontation with the occupation.
The Islamist groups remain the most well-organised political movements, although such organisations as the Union of Unemployed (see back page) are hopeful signs of secular and working-class forces beginning to emerge.
So far, the guerrilla attacks on the US forces, the UN, and on one of the Shi'a leaders who was murdered in August along with over 100 others, do not indicate a Vietnam-style war of national liberation. Iraqis are demanding democracy - the right to elect their own government and rule their own country. As Salam Pax, the so-called Baghdad Blogger, recently put it after attending the Hutton inquiry in London: "It is like listening to your parents discuss how they should bring you up; it is your life, but you are not making the decisions."
Democracy, at local and national level, is an urgent necessity for the people of Iraq. Socialists, trade unionists, and democrats in Europe need to build practical solidarity with the Iraqi people, and especially emerging working class organisations, to make democracy a reality.