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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 67/No. 45December 22, 2003

lead article
U.S.-led NATO expands
operations in Afghanistan
Washington probes role for imperialist alliance in Iraq
Getty Images/Chris Hondros
U.S. troops seize Iraqi man December 3 after raids in Samarra, central Iraq.

U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, indicated December 1 that Washington has made progress in getting the imperialist military alliance to expand its role in the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld also pointed to the steps taken since NATO’s summit in Prague a year ago to restructure the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance. These include the first moves to establish a “rapid response force” that can be deployed quickly to defend imperialist interests around the world .

At a subsequent meeting in Brussels of NATO foreign ministers, U.S. officials also sought to lay the basis for NATO to play a more direct role in supporting the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. In an acknowledgment that Washington remains far from that goal, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell said the immediate focus of their efforts was on NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld noted that NATO, in its first-ever military operation outside Europe, has taken over command of a contingent of 5,500 troops based in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. A separate U.S.-led force of 11,500 troops has been operating in other parts of the country.

In a further step, the U.S. defense secretary emphasized, NATO is now moving to expand its operations outside Kabul to several provincial cities, closer to areas of potential combat. Rumsfeld said that the ministerial meeting “also discussed the possibility that NATO might take over military operations in Afghanistan some time in the future.”

German troops have already been leading a military contingent, known as a “Provincial Reconstruction Team,” in the northern town of Kunduz. NATO officials reported there are now five other such units, composed of U.S., British, and New Zealand troops.

Rumsfeld stated that, apart from Washington, the imperialist forces currently in Afghanistan—particularly those from “old Europe,” a term coined by U.S. officials during the war on Iraq this year to refer to the French-German bloc in the European Union—have not yet provided adequate military equipment such as helicopters to conduct effective operations beyond Kabul.

The U.S. secretary of defense said that since the NATO summit in Prague a year ago, several steps have been taken to restructure NATO along the lines that Washington has been advocating. He highlighted the establishment of the new rapid-response force, which would reinforce the need “to transform the militaries” of NATO members and demonstrate “the importance of agility and the importance of speed and being capable of being deployed,” as he put it in a November 30 press conference.

On December 1, Rumsfeld said, “NATO stood up the initial rotation of its new Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Battalion.”

At the December 4 Brussels meeting of foreign ministers, U.S. officials urged NATO to consider taking a more direct role to support the U.S.-dominated occupation force in Iraq. As an initial step, Powell suggested NATO eventually take over the command of a division of forces in south-central Iraq currently under Polish command. NATO’s involvement so far has been limited to providing logistical support to the division, which has 9,500 troops from 17 countries, including 2,500 from Poland.

“Not one single NATO member here today—or seven countries due to join next year—spoke against the possibility of an expanded role for NATO in Iraq,” Powell told reporters after the meeting. “And that includes…France and Germany,” he said, when asked if those two governments had raised objections.

Powell’s comments were a tacit admission that Washington has made little progress in getting NATO to commit troops to Iraq. That will not happen without agreement from Paris and Berlin, which have said they would do so only under a United Nations-sponsored command.

While the French government is not part of NATO’s military command, it has the second-largest contingent in NATO’s new rapid-response force.

Berlin and Paris have urged a quicker transfer of formal power to a regime that gives the appearance of being run by Iraqis. U.S. officials hope objections by Paris and Berlin “will soften,” an article in the Los Angeles Times said, when Washington sets up a new “transitional” government later in 2004 to give the occupation more of an Iraqi face and boost its popular acceptance.

Before the invasion of Iraq nine months ago, the German and French governments, defending their own lucrative trade relations and investments in that country, had been critical of how Washington was leading the drive toward war there.

In Brussels, the European ministers also continued their discussions on plans for a common defense policy in time for the mid-December drafting of a European Union (EU) constitution, including an EU military arm. Berlin and Paris have argued for a EU military wing of NATO.

Powell said he applauded efforts by European governments to increase their military capability but warned that the EU military arm must not undermine NATO. “The United States cannot accept independent EU structures that duplicate existing NATO capabilities,” he said.

At a European security conference in the Netherlands, Powell insisted that such a force should be deployed only where NATO “for one reason or another” is unwilling to take on a military intervention.

At a December 2 roundtable with European editors in Brussels, Rumsfeld was asked his opinion on the possible dispute between the U.S.-led NATO and the Franco-German initiative for an EU military force. The defense secretary said the answer is “above my pay grade at this stage in time,” implying that the brewing conflict will be dealt with at the head-of-state level.

During a December 8 meeting in Brussels, the European Union failed to reach agreement on a mutual defense clause for an EU constitution that was to be debated at a European Union summit later that week. The governments of Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden opposed a clause, modeled on a NATO statute, that would oblige all EU members to provide military support to any EU state under attack. British foreign minister Jack Straw said he understood the concerns about this proposal.

The French and German governments, meanwhile, are expected to stand firm on steps toward an EU military arm of the kind that irks Washington. “Substantial progress has been made in finding a form of words to describe the setting up of a European military operational cell,” said an article in the December 9 Financial Times. “But France still wants such a cell to be the basis of a future command and planning headquarters running EU defense operations in co-operation with NATO but independent of it.”

The same day, two U.S. government officials briefed Washington’s allies in NATO on Pentagon plans to close or scale down many of the permanent U.S. bases established after World War II in Germany and other NATO countries and shift the troops instead to smaller and more agile military centers in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

“The cold war is over, we face new threats,” said Marc Grossman, a U.S. undersecretary of state, according to the December 9 International Herald Tribune. “We need to make sure that our force posture and the posture of NATO and our allies is aligned in such a way to meet these new threats.”

Grossman and Douglas Feith, a U.S. undersecretary of defense, told reporters they were due to split up for visits to Germany, France, Britain, Turkey, Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, and Iceland. “The inclusion of Poland and Romania and Bulgaria was significant,” the Tribune said. “All have been mentioned as possible hosts of new American bases.” Many U.S. troops and bases may be shifted to these countries from Germany, which has been host to 80,000 of the 116,000 U.S. troops in Europe.  
Tokyo pushes for troops in Iraq
At the same time, in a major step by Japanese imperialism to begin to deploy its military forces abroad, the Japanese cabinet voted December 9 to send up to 1,000 “noncombat” troops to Iraq. The controversial move had twice before been put on hold.

Japan has one of world’s largest and most modern armed forces—termed a “self-defense force”—but since its defeat by Washington in World War II, it has been barred under a U.S.-imposed constitution from using military forces abroad.

The debate flared anew after two Japanese diplomats were killed in Iraq last month by forces opposed to the U.S.-led occupation.

Tokyo staged a state funeral for the two diplomats December 6. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used the patriotic speeches and displays of Japanese flags to press his argument for sending troops to Iraq. “Japan’s spirit is being tested,” Koizumi said. “We are no longer in a situation where we can only pay money. We must perform our utmost.” Earlier this year, Tokyo pledged $5 billion in financial backing for the imperialist occupation force.

While the Japanese unit is supposed to be on a “humanitarian” mission in Iraq, the heavily armed troops are authorized to engage in combat for “self-defense.”

In Iraq, Washington has moved to set up a “war crimes” tribunal to organize trials against former officials of the Saddam Hussein regime. Seeking to tap the deep hatred among many Iraqis for the former party-police state, U.S. officials plan to use the tribunals to try figures such as Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali” for his alleged role in chemical attacks on Kurds in the 1980s, and Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, a leader of the regime’s bloody suppression of a Shiite Muslim revolt in southern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War.

To win more popular support for such a tribunal, the imperialist occupation forces plan to use Iraqi judges. This is in contrast with “war crimes” trials such as the UN tribunal targeting former Yugoslav government officials, which Washington has used to justify its 1999 war against Yugoslavia

In a string of continuing attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, two bombs targeted U.S. military convoys in Baghdad December 5, the day before U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to Iraq. In one of the bombings, in a crowded market, one U.S. soldier and four Iraqis were reportedly killed and 16 Iraqis were wounded. Most of those injured were passengers in a passing bus, an AP dispatch reported.

The attacks sparked expressions of anger from some of the local residents. “I don’t understand why they do it. They know there’s a Friday market here and there are a lot of people,” cake shop owner Abdul Wahad Allwan said, according to an article in the Khaleej Times. “They hurt one American but they killed and wounded far more Iraqis,” stated Ahmed Ali, a sweets seller in the market.

The next day, a funeral in the Sunni Muslim town of Samarra for two Iraqis killed in a firefight with U.S. troops led to a clash, with mourners killing an Iraqi security official and chanting pro-Saddam slogans over his body. When members of the U.S.-led Iraqi Civil Defense Corps ordered some of those at the funeral to stop firing weapons in the air as is traditional, some mourners reportedly fired at the paramilitary forces, fatally shooting a guard and setting their truck on fire. Dozens of people chanted, “Long live Saddam! Death to the traitors!” reported AP correspondent Sameer Yacoub. The funeral was for two people who had been killed November 30 when armed attackers engaged a contingent of 100 U.S. troops in a firefight. The U.S. forces unleashed their devastating firepower, leaving numerous civilians dead and wounded and sparking widespread anger.

Samarra is in an area north of Baghdad sometimes referred to as the “Sunni Triangle,” where the Baathist party-government apparatus, which combined patronage and terror during its decades of rule, had its strongest base. Much of the armed resistance to the U.S.-led occupation has been in this region. Little armed opposition has taken place in the largely Shiite south or among the Kurds in the north.  
New Baath Party minus Hussein?
According to the December 4 Financial Times, “Iraqi officials and political parties say former Ba’athist leaders who had fallen out with Saddam Hussein in the past are looking at setting up a political party under a new name and are letting it be known that they have excluded Mr. Hussein from the new movement.” Such a move, however, is expected to meet with hostility from U.S. forces. The occupiers have been waging a “de-Baathification” campaign to eliminate the top ranks of Baath Party officials from the administration. This campaign affects tens of thousands, especially Sunnis, who tended to dominate such jobs under Hussein. The purges have caused resentment among some in the Sunni population.

Some Iraqi groups that are part of the U.S.-backed “interim” government have argued that the existence of such an organization would help undercut the military resistance by former Baathist elements. “If we are for a real democracy as they [Washington] say, this means the field should be open to all parties,” said Jassem Essawi, spokesperson for the National Unity Movement, a Sunni Islamist political group that appears to have a measure of support. “The Iraqi street should judge whether a new Ba’ath is acceptable.”
Related articles:
What’s the nature of Iraqi resistance?

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