Speaking to the General

Open Letter to General Petraeus
By James Petras
Mar 10, 2007, 01:12

I am told by the Manchester Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post that you have impeccable academic and battlefield credentials. Bush has appointed you “Commander of the Multinational Forces in Iraq”, and so you have the power to implement your highly publicized counter-insurgency theories. You are nearly my namesake – having a Romanized version of my Hellenized name (Petraeus/Petras). You are dubbed a ‘warrior’ or ‘counter-insurgency intellectual’. I hold credentials as an ‘insurgency intellectual’ or as Alex Cockburn calls it ‘a fifty-year membership in the class struggle’. You publicists have billed you as ‘America’s last best hope for salvation (of the empire) in Iraq.’ Predictably the Democrats in Congress led by Senator Clinton went down to their knees in praise and support of your professionalism and war record in Northern Iraq. So let it be recognized that you enjoy an advantage: the support of both parties, the White House, Congress and the mass media, but still being an insurgent intellectual, I am not convinced that you will or should succeed in saving Iraq for the empire. Better still; I think you undoubtedly will fail, because your military assumptions and strategies are based on fundamentally flawed political analyses, which have profound military consequences.

Let us start with your much-vaunted military successes in North Iraq – especially in Nineveh province. North Iraq, particularly, Nineveh, is dominated by the Kurdish military and tribal leaders and party bosses. The relative stability of the region has little or nothing to do with your counter-insurgency prowess and more to do with the high degree of Kurdish ‘independence’ or ‘separatism’ in the region. Put bluntly, the US and Israeli military and financial backing of Kurdish separatism has created a de facto independent Kurdish state, one based on the brutal ethnic purging of large concentrations of Turkmen and Arab citizens. General Petraeus, by giving license to Kurdish irredentist aspirations for an ethnically purified ‘Greater Kurdistan’, encroaching on Turkey, Iran and Syria, you secured the loyalty of the Kurdish militias and especially the deadly Peshmerga ‘special forces’ in eliminating resistance to the US occupation in Nineveh. Moreover, the Peshmerga has provided the US with special units to infiltrate the Iraqi resistance groups, to provoke intra-communal strife through incidents of terrorism against the civilian population. In other words, General Petreaus’ ‘success’ in Northern Iraq is not replicable in the rest of Iraq. In fact your very success in carving off Kurd-dominated Iraq has heightened hostilities in the rest of the country.

Your theory of ‘securing and holding’ territory presumes a highly motivated and reliable military force capable of withstanding hostility from at least eighty percent of the colonized population. The fact of the matter is that the morale of US soldiers in Iraq and those scheduled to be sent to Iraq is very low. The ranks of those who are seeking a quick exit from military service now include career soldiers and non-commissioned officers – the backbone of the military (Financial Times, March 3-4, 2007 p.2) Unauthorized absences (AWOLs) have shot up – 14,000 between 2000-2005 (FT ibid). In March over a thousand active duty and reserve soldiers and marines petitioned Congress for a US withdrawal from Iraq. The opposition of retired and active Generals to Bush’s escalation of troops percolates down the ranks to the ‘grunts’ on the ground, especially among reservists on active duty whose tours of duty in Iraq have been repeatedly extended (the ‘backdoor draft’). Demoralizing prolonged stays or rapid rotation undermines any effort of ‘consolidating ties’ between US and Iraqi officers and certainly undermines most efforts to win the confidence of the local population. If the US troops are deeply troubled by the war in Iraq and increasingly subject to desertion and demoralization, how less reliable is the Iraqi mercenary army. Iraqis recruited on the basis of hunger and unemployment (caused by the US war), with kinship, ethnic and national ties to a free and independent Iraq do not make reliable soldiers. Every serious expert has concluded that the divisions in Iraqi society are reflected in the loyalties of the soldiers.

General Petraeus, count your troops everyday, because a few more will stray and perhaps in the future you will face an empty drill field or worse a barrack revolt. The continued high casualty rates among US soldiers and Iraqi civilians, during your first month as Commander suggests that ‘holding and securing’ Baghdad failed to alter the overall situation.

Petraeus, your ‘rule book’ prioritizes “security and task sharing as a means of empowering civilians and prompting national reconciliation.” ‘Security’ is elusive because what the US Commander considers ‘security’ is the free movement of US troops and collaborators based on the insecurity of the colonized Iraqi majority. They are subject to arbitrary house-to-house searches, break-ins and humiliating searches and arrests. ‘Task Sharing’ under a US General and his military forces is a euphemism for Iraqi collaboration in ‘administrating’ your orders. ‘Sharing’ involves a highly asymmetrical relation of power: the US orders and the Iraqis comply. The US defines the ‘task’ as informing on insurgents and the population is supposed to provide ‘information’ on their families, friends and compatriots, in other words betraying their own people. It reads more feasible in your manual than on the ground.

‘Empowering civilians’, as you argue, assumes that those who ‘empower’ give up power to the ‘others’. In other words, the US military cedes territory, security, financial resource management and allocation to a colonized people. Yet it is precisely these people who protect and support insurgents and oppose the US occupation and its puppet regime. Otherwise, Commander, what you really mean is ‘empowering’ a small minority of civilians who are willing collaborators of an occupying army. The civilian minority ‘empowered’ by you will require heavy US military protection to withstand retaliation. So far nothing of the sort has occurred: no neighborhood civilian collaborators have been delegated real power and those who have, are dead, hiding or on the run.

Read the rest here.

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