By ADAM RITSCHER
On Dec. 31, following funerals for the 25 people who were killed in U.S. air strikes in Iraq, thousands of protesters pushed through the Green Zone’s security perimeter in Baghdad and began protesting just outside the U.S. embassy. The protesters, most of whom were supporters of Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah militia, demanded that the U.S. withdraw its troops from the country. The militia is politically aligned with the government of Iran.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world and well guarded. Security responded to protesters by firing tear gas at them, which escalated the conflict. Protesters broke windows, set buildings on fire, and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails over the embassy walls. The U.S. reacted by sending in 100 additional Marines, and sending two Apache attack helicopters to the scene. Some 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were also dispatched to the Middle East. Trump tweeted that he blamed Iran for the protest; a military showdown with Iran was threatened.
Protests continued for a second day, on Jan. 1, outside the embassy, with U.S. forces firing more tear gas and rubber bullets at them. After pressure by Washington on the Iraqi government, large numbers of Iraqi security personnel entered the area and pushed the protesters out. Finally, a top official of the Kataib Hezbollah militia arrived and asked the crowd to withdraw. “You have won a victory!” he told them. “You have delivered your message. We will take our fight to expel U.S. troops from our land to parliament, and if we don’t succeed, we will return.”
“We burned them!” protesters chanted as they left, vowing to build another protest camp on the other side of the Tigris River.
The bombing by U.S. aircraft took place on Dec. 29. Five sites connected to Kataib Hezbollah were bombed—three in Iraq and two in Syria. Reports state that 25 to 31 people were killed by the strikes, and over 50 were injured. According to a statement issued by the U.S. military, the targets that they chose consisted of the command center, weapons depots, and bases of the militia.
The reasons the U.S. gave for the attack was that they believed that the militia was behind a series of rocket barrages on U.S. bases in the region, which resulted in the killing of an American military contractor. Kataib Hezbollah denied responsibility for the rocket assaults, however. In any case, the U.S. justification for its bombing ignores the fact that the very creation of the Kataib Hezbollah militia is in large part a response to the illegal and unjust U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Revolutionary socialists do not give political support to Kataib Hezbollah. After all, it is one of the violent, corrupt militias that Iraqis have been staging mass protests against since October. But we do support the right of Iraqis to oppose and fight back against the U.S. occupation of the country. The U.S. still has 5000 troops in the country, despite claims that they are being withdrawn, and continues to bully and blackmail the Iraqi government.
This very attack, for example, was a clear violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. The U.S. government says that they notified the prime minister of Iraq half an hour before the air strikes took place. However, the Iraqi government in no way asked for the strikes or consented to them. The Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, made clear their opposition to the planned attacks, but the U.S. went ahead with them anyway—demonstrating that the U.S. presence in Iraq has nothing to do with helping the people of Iraq but is entirely about pursuing the bloody interests of imperialism.
In the media the U.S. is trying to portray itself as a victim—claiming that its airstrikes were a justified retaliation for previous attacks, and that its embassy should be sacred and off limits. But the reality is that the U.S. is the aggressor that has invaded, bombed and upended the lives of the Iraqi people. The U.S. has no right to be there; its interests are those of Wall Street and not the people of the region. We demand that the U.S. stop its bombings, withdraw all of its forces from the Middle East, and respect the peoples’ right to self-determination.