Eds. note: WW is monitoring developments in the region. Check workers.org for updates.
The arrogance of U.S. imperialism knows no bounds. And nowhere has it been more destructive in recent decades than in the countries of the area dubbed the Middle East.
A humiliating message to the U.S. imperialists was delivered in Baghdad, Iraq – on the very last day of 2019.
On Dec. 31, an unarmed funeral procession of thousands walked unopposed past guard posts, layers of blast barriers and checkpoints into the most highly secured U.S. embassy compound in the world. Iraqi government security forces did not block militia members and their leaders from entering the heavily fortified Green Zone where the U.S. Embassy is located.
This bold action followed a mass funeral for members of Popular Militia units who had been killed in a U.S. bombing. It exposed the vulnerability of the U.S. occupiers.
U.S. retaliates with dangerous provocation
That embassy action sent a clear message that no U.S. base in Iraq is secure.
The very Iraqi forces the U.S. relies on, in the most heavily fortified embassy in the world, opened the door. Clearly the U.S. has no allies. Even the Iraqi forces who collaborated have aligned against them.
The U.S. responded with a dangerous and irrational provocation, a criminal act intended to create a conflagration in the region.
According to a U.S. Department of Defense statement, President Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, who was on an official visit to Iraq.
A U.S. air strike killed Soleimani at the Baghdad Airport early Friday morning, Jan. 3..
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are officially part of the Iraqi Security Forces, was also assassinated.
The U.S. escalation included the well-publicized arrival of U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division in Kuwait on the same day as the assassinations.
As the U.S. ignites a crisis, this is an important time to evaluate the U.S. position, its strength and its alliances, and to evaluate the developments of peoples’ movements for sovereignty in the whole region.
The bold Iraqi action at the U.S. Embassy
Iraqi protesters storm U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Dec. 31
It was not an isolated or exceptional event. Rather it was the third time during the last few months of 2019 that U.S. power had been successfully challenged in entirely new and creative ways – and in a region that has been brutally dominated, occupied and willfully impoverished by U.S. forces for decades.
Iraqi military units are certainly capable of a sudden, surprise military attack. For instance, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was hit by a barrage of Katyusha rockets in May. Rocket attacks on U.S. bases are escalating.
But a different course was chosen – a more stunning and highly political act. This time the Iraqis walked in the front door.
According to live footage and reports from the site by Al Jazeera, the funeral procession “got into the protected Green Zone by going through the gates without any resistance whatsoever from Iraqi security forces that are supposed to guard the Green Zone.”
Hundreds of people shouting “Death to America” scaled walls and actually got into the U.S. Embassy. They burned the reception area and then announced on bullhorns that they had “delivered their message.”
According to NBC News reports, the smashing of a main door and setting fire to a reception area was one of the worst attacks on the embassy in recent memory. Flames rose from inside the compound and U.S. soldiers on the roof of the main embassy building pointed guns at protesters. Guards fired tear gas as smoke rose over the embassy grounds.
The protesters erected tents for the night, brought in mattresses and cooking pots, and said they were prepared to launch an open-ended sit-in around the embassy until they saw action taken to “end U.S. presence and intervention in the country.”
They called on the Iraqi Parliament to take action: “We want the Americans out.”
One person interviewed, who described himself as a militia supporter, said: “We came to mourn the people who died as a result of the U.S. strikes in Qaim and to condemn the source of all evil in Iraq since 2003.
“We are here because we are against the U.S. presence in Iraq … and we won’t leave until Parliament and the government put an end to that.”
Green Zone – a U.S. bubble
The Green Zone is a U.S.-created security bubble, a self-contained colony taking up 4 square miles of central Baghdad. It is surrounded by concrete blast walls and barbed wire fences fortified by sandbags, spotlights and checkpoints.
The U.S. Embassy, within the Green Zone, occupies more than 100 acres of prime real estate. It is about the size of Vatican City. Six times larger than the United Nations headquarters in New York, it is the world’s largest embassy.
This giant “embassy” has its own water and waste treatment facilities, as well as a power station. It contains two office buildings, six residential buildings with 100 apartments each, a shopping mall, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a gym and tennis courts. The embassy was designed to symbolize the permanence of U.S. power in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
That the most highly trained Iraqi security forces, supposedly trustworthy to guard U.S. interests, made no effort to stop the protesters as they marched into the heavily fortified Green Zone is a stunning development. It sends a message about the security of every U.S. base in Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih that the Iraqi government was obliged under international law to protect this vast U.S. Embassy.
Popular forces in motion
The Iraqi government is already weakened and divided by months of popular protests that have gripped Baghdad and the south of Iraq since early October.
Attempted crackdowns on demonstrations calling for basic services, employment opportunities and an end to corruption have resulted in at least 470 dead and more than 20,000 injured. The continuing protests have developed into demands for a complete overhaul of the corrupt and sectarian political system established under U.S. occupation.
In recent weeks, a series of rocket attacks during the demonstrations has targeted military installations in Iraq where U.S. personnel are stationed. An occupation of Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, was in force during the attack on the U.S. Embassy.
U.S. strategy: Keep region divided
Public anger had exploded after the U.S. bombed militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which are officially part of the Iraqi Security Forces. The U.S. attack on Dec. 29 killed 32 and wounded 55 who had been honored as front-line fighters against ISIS. U.S. officials said the five bombed targets included three border locations in Iraq and two in Syria.
Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi had expressed his “strong objection to this unilateral decision,” adding that “these strikes represent a treacherous stab in the back…. We consider it a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a dangerous escalation that threatens the security of Iraq and the region.”
The U.S. said it launched the bombing in retaliation to a rocket attack on Dec. 27, near Kirkuk, that killed a U.S. mercenary. But the site the U.S. military chose to bomb was hundreds of miles from where the U.S. mercenary had died.
The area bombed was the only border crossing controlled by Iraqi and Syrian forces, not the U.S. The crossing had been opened with great celebration after being in the hands of ISIS forces for five years. Last September, Israel had bombed Syrian forces trying to open this crucial highway crossing.
Opening this border post on the Syria/Iraq border signified the first time in 30 years that trade, travel and exchanges among Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon were potentially open and not under U.S. control.
U.S. strategy for decades has focused on how to keep this entire region divided, dependent and at war. Syria and Iraq were divided against each other as U.S. policy inflamed sectarian, ethnic and religious differences.
All these countries are under strict U.S. sanctions, so opening their ability to trade with each other is a huge and life-saving step forward. Knitting this destroyed region back together is a goal of those opposed to U.S. efforts to re-colonize the area.
By bombing this border crossing, the U.S. confirmed its strategy is to forcibly divide the region.
U.S. plans to destroy Syria were decisively set back in 2019, despite five years of Pentagon bombing and the arming and resupplying of tens of thousands of mercenary forces. The assistance of Iran, Russia and Lebanon was crucial to Syria’s survival.
But Pentagon planners are still determined to maintain control of Syria’s most productive oil fields and block efforts to reconstruct its war-torn economy. As the Pentagon resupplies its forces in Syria through U.S. bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, border control is an essential part of U.S. strategy.
U.S. strategy vs. Iran, Iraq and Syria
Ever since Iran’s 1979 revolution, the U.S. has tried to crush it with sanctions. It also tightened sanctions on Iraq in August 1990, followed the next year by a massive bombing campaign that led to the death of half a million Iraqi children. Then, in 2003, the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq, destroying its social and cultural fabric. More than one million U.S. troops cycled through Iraq – but they could not subdue the resistance.
U.S. sanctions on Syria began at the same time the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. They became far harsher by 2011, with an all-out effort to overturn the Syrian government by arming and supplying tens of thousands of foreign mercenary forces and then providing back-handed support to Saudi-created ISIS terrorists. ISIS became the new excuse for the U.S. military to bomb Syria and send troops into Iraq as “trainers.”
Every political current in Iraq and Syria, even collaborators, eventually came to hate the duplicity and racist arrogance of U.S. domination.
The only Pentagon solution to the growing resistance on every front is more war. The recent deployment of 750 soldiers to the Gulf region is in addition to 14,000 U.S. troops who have been there since May, supposedly to counter Iranian influence.
The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq, supposedly to train Iraqi forces and help them combat ISIS. Over 2,000 U.S. troops remain in Syria, despite much publicity promising their withdrawal. Meanwhile, AP News reports that a full brigade of about 4,000 more soldiers may deploy to Iraq.
Blaming Iran for U.S. failures
It is U.S. policy to blame Iran for every setback and form of resistance in the entire region. Iran, although severely sanctioned and surrounded, is the only country that has escaped direct U.S. occupation and massive destruction.
Donald Trump tweeted that “Iran has orchestrated the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad.” He threatened that the U.S. would “hold Iran for responsible” (sic) for the rapidly unfolding events in the Iraqi capital. Trump also blamed Iran for the death of a U.S. mercenary and claimed that the targets chosen were “Iranian controlled” militias.
Even the U.S. failure to subdue Afghanistan after 18 years of occupation has been blamed on Iran. For example, on the last day of May 2019, a suicide attack in Kabul wounded four U.S. servicemen. While the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, Washington blamed Iran. Drones launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen were also blamed on Iran.
The Trump administration’s move to unilaterally cancel a legally binding accord, signed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, to end the sanctions on Iran, has heightened tensions in the region. New, even harsher, U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran are an effort to destabilize the country with hyperinflation and shortages.
Iran, China, Russia start joint naval drills
But Iran sent its own message as U.S. threats were escalated along with the crisis in Iraq. It was a message the whole world took note of.
One fifth of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which connects to the Gulf of Oman. On Dec. 27, Iran, China and Russia started four days of joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.
Iranian Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani said on state television: “The message of this exercise is peace, friendship and lasting security through cooperation and unity … and its effect will be to show that Iran cannot be isolated…. The aim of this drill is to bolster security of international maritime commerce, combatting piracy and terrorism and sharing information … and experience.”
The joint naval drill showed the determination to offer some protection to a region that has been openly looted by modern-day imperialist pirates. New trade deals and funds for rebuilding war-torn and sanctioned economies are on the drawing boards in Iran, China and Russia. It’s no longer a unipolar world.
Expensive U.S. weapons of little use
In Sept. 14, 2019, attacks on Saudi Arabia’s energy giant Aramco at its vital Abqaiq main processing plant and gas plant, near the Khurais oilfield, temporarily halved Saudi crude output. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility. They proudly called a press conference on Sept. 18 to describe the attack, launched from three different positions within Yemen. Three types of drones were used.
But Washington and Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of the attacks — a charge Iran has strongly denied.
Saudi purchases of over $67 billion in U.S. arms, including the famous Patriot missiles, failed to warn of or prevent the attack. Saudi Arabia is the world’s third-highest spender on the military. Its inability to protect its most critical oil facility set off alarm bells.
Some 25 drones and cruise missiles are said to have been used in the strikes. These low-flying, inexpensive weapons are a new challenge to Saudi defenses, which are designed for high-altitude missiles.
The September strike was the second attack on Aramco oil facilities in a month. On Aug. 17, the Houthis had directed a similar attack on the Shaybah oilfield in the kingdom’s South East region.
Saudi Arabia boasts an arsenal of sophisticated and expensive air defense equipment. They have purchased the U.S.-made Patriot missile defense system, the German-made Skyguard air defense cannons and France’s Shahine mobile anti-aircraft system, and they’ll soon have Lockheed Martin’s highly advanced THAAD (terminal high-altitude area defense) interceptors.
It turns out that none of these multi-billion-dollar weapons systems has the ability to pick up small, unmanned aerial vehicles or low-flying missiles on their radar. The Saudi military is also not trained to coordinate countermeasures.
Washington promised to rush more worthless weapons and additional troops to the region. But the message had been conveyed that U.S. Patriot missiles might be paper tigers.
CNBC, Reuters, ABC and other corporate media sites termed the successful attack a “game changer” and said that the repercussions for Saudi Arabia’s inability to defend itself are global. News reports speculated that Saudi Arabia’s massive oil plants are easy targets and its current air defenses are “irrelevant.”
Financial investors are reportedly asking how the Saudi monarchy could have left itself so vulnerable and what that means for the future of oil, global markets and the “long-awaited” Aramco public stock offering.
2020 – a new decade
The scale of this humiliating failure can best be appreciated when weighed against the grandiose promises of five consecutive U.S. presidents and some 30 years of failed U.S. sanctions, bombings and occupations that have tortured this region of vast wealth.
Unbowed resistance and an abiding hatred of U.S. imperialism is a material force now deeply rooted in popular movements throughout the region. They are finding creative and low-tech ways of resisting the all-powerful U.S. monolith. They are also developing new alliances that can enable them to rebuild.
The bombastic declaration made two decades ago — that this would be an American century – now rings hollow.
Yes, the U.S. military machine and U.S. corporate power remain massive threats to many countries and an enormous waste of resources. But the ability of a popular militia to walk unchallenged into the most highly protected U.S. zone is a very good start to the 2020 decade.