Early in December, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted in an interview on Fox TV News, that "it would have been possible to make a better assessment of the insurrection." That Rumsfeld should make such an admission publicly in front of millions of viewers, would, in and of itself, be a clear indication that the difficulties faced by the US forces in Iraq are really serious. If indeed there was any need for that, given the gun battles, ambushes and terrorist attacks of all kinds targeted at the occupation forces and their Iraqi allies, which take place every day across an area covering more than a third of the Iraqi territory. In fact the number of occupation troops killed and wounded, despite their hugely superior firepower and monopoly of the air and the bloodbaths to which they have to resort in a vain attempt to restore some semblance of order, make Rumsfeld's admission redundant and almost laughable.
However, this admission has not prevented Bush, Blair and the puppet Iraqi government from insisting that the planned January 30 elections can and will go ahead. Of course, given the increasingly catastrophic turn of events over the past months, they are all desperate to be able to boast of some sort of "success" in the face of public opinion - even if, instead of showing the emergence of "democracy" in Iraq, this so-called election is really a cynical farce - and even though their hands are stained with the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Indeed, Blair has every reason to worry about the impact of his policy in Iraq on Labour's performance in the coming general election, especially after the announcement that the estimated cost of British military operations had increased by 66%, up to £5bn - something that British working class voters will inevitably compare with the government's on-going cuts in social budgets and public services.
As to Bush, the inept and criminal nature of his policy is increasingly exposed in front of the US public. Many Americans must have seen the CBS TV programme "60 minutes", shown on 8 December last, which revealed that around 5,000 US soldiers had deserted since the beginning of the war. The next day, a TV news broadcast showed US soldiers challenging Donald Rumsfeld during a visit to Kuwait, demanding to know why the soldiers of the world's richest army had to hunt for scrap metal to protect their vehicles against attacks. The same night, three US deserters who had just been granted refugee status in Canada, were seen on prime time TV across the US.
Senior US army officials interviewed by the media do not seem to share Bush's and Blair's apparent optimism about January 30. Several of them were quoted as stating that it will be impossible for the occupation forces to protect voters in all 9,000 polling stations, especially in the many areas of central Iraq where the US forces have to use most of their resources to protect their own positions. Others were even more severe in their estimation of the situation. They warned that if the turnout is ridiculously low, as is likely, and the election therefore deprived of any legitimacy and seen as a defeat for the occupation authorities and Allawi's puppet regime, this would encourage the resistance groups to capitalise on this defeat. They would be likely to raise their profile even more, thereby making the task of the US forces even more difficult.
In fact, to all intents and purposes, the Pentagon seems to be taking the view that the policy followed by Bush so far has been a failure and needs to reviewed. A special envoy has been sent from Washington - a retired general - to look for ways to sort out the mess. Among the measures to be considered would be an increase in the US contingent from its present 150,000 level (already up from 130,000 a month ago) to 200,000 - a long-standing demand of US generals. Quite obviously, and contrary to the fairy tales floated about by western leaders, the US top brass do not believe that the 30 January election will solve anything in Iraq, assuming it takes place and does not turn into a debacle, or, far worse still, yet another bloodbath.
The quagmire deepens
No-one denies any more that the resistance to the US-British occupation has increased dramatically over the past months. The same US generals who estimated semi-officially a few months ago that the resistance involved "at most" 5 to 10,000 fighters, have doubled their estimates lately. But Allawi's intelligence chief, general Shahwani, who may not have as many reasons as the US generals to play down the importance of the resistance, could well prove to be closer to the truth. During an interview with the AFP press agency, he estimated that the resistance involves 40,000 "hard-core fighters" together with another 160,000 part-time fighters and sympathisers providing the resistant groups with logistical help, shelter or intelligence.
The extent to which the armed groups have raised their profile is shown by the Pentagon's own statistics. According to these figures, the monthly number of attacks against US troops, which was around 700 in the last quarter of 2003 has escalated to 1850 in the last quarter of 2004. These attacks are taking place in a much larger area, which now includes the northern city of Mosul, the country's third largest city, but also Basra, where there have been repeated rocket and mortar attacks against the coalition headquarters. Moreover, these attacks have included numerous armed confrontations in broad daylight, in the middle of urban areas - something which only occurred previously during last April's insurgency in Falluja and the main Shia urban centres, and, again, last July, during the siege of Najaf.
Many of these attacks are still suicide bombings or involve the use of light or home-made equipment such as rifles, RPGs, roadside bombs or booby-trapped vehicles. But the growing number of US helicopters and transport aircraft shot down by the resistance shows that some armed groups have managed to equip themselves with far more sophisticated weapons. Journalists "embedded" with the Black Watch near Falluja noted that rocket launchers with a range of at least 8 miles were being used to attack Camp Dogwood. Another report mentioned that during an attack against a number of police stations in Samarra, which involved several dozens of guerilla fighters, anti-tank artillery had been used to destroy police bunkers. This is a change from the light weaponry which has commonly been in use so far and it can only mean that over the past months some of the resistance groups have achieved a degree of organisation and built up arsenals which will make it far more difficult for the occupation forces to crush them.
The increased profile of the resistance is also reflected in the rising number of US troops killed and wounded. In the first 13 months of the war, up to and including last March, the average number of soldiers wounded in combat per month was 229. It rose to 782 in the 9 months between July and December 2004, a 240% increase. Likewise for the average monthly number of soldiers killed in combat: 46 in the first 13 months of the war, 81 in the past 9 months: a 76% increase. But, if one takes into account the findings of a US army medical journal, which wrote that among the wounded soldiers, one in ten dies of his or her injuries away from the battlefield, the real number of US soldiers killed since the beginning of the war would be 2,350 instead of 1,350 and the real monthly average killed over the past 9 months would be 159 killed, instead of 81.
These figures do not include, of course, the attacks against Iraqi government forces, which have increased even more than those against US troops lately, nor the resulting casualties. The Iraqi interior minister did admit recently that 1,300 Iraqi police had been killed since the beginning of the war. But this figure is just not credible, when media reports, particularly since last September, mention dozens of Iraqi police and National Guards being killed virtually every day. All the more so because, unlike their US counterparts, the Iraqi forces do not have the "privilege" of using heavy armoured vehicles, not even the humvees and armoured trucks - whose lack of metal plate protection underneath, against roadside bombs, caused US soldiers to take Rumsfeld to task in Kuwait.
The US-trained Iraqi forces threaten to melt down
These rising casualties and the increasing unreliability among the Iraqi forces now confront US leaders with major problems.
Some of this can be explained by the way in which these forces were formed. Indeed, when it turned out that significant resistance to the occupation was manifesting itself, the old Iraqi army had already been sacked, which pushed some angry ex-soldiers into the arms of the resistance, into the bargain. So Bush's grand plan was to rebuild a new home-grown repressive machinery and use the new Iraqi recruits as cannon fodder to "deal" with this resistance.
Significantly, the US authorities met with some initial success when they appointed general Shahwani, himself a former head of Intelligence under Saddam. They gave him the responsibility of recruiting a new Iraqi "Special Forces" unit. This he manned with former members of Saddam Hussein's secret police, and it rapidly earned the reputation of being a bunch of sadistic torturers, as a result of its participation in the US troops' "cleansing" operations against suspected terrorists. However, from the US point of view, despite their reliability (for the time being in any case), these "Special Forces" were far too small a force to be of much use against the rising resistance.
Of course, there was the Iraqi police, which had been drafted back into its former role in 2003. But it was considered too close to the population to be reliable, too corrupted and too infiltrated by the resistance - all of which is probably true. So the decision was made to set up a US-trained Iraqi National Guard (ING), whose hierarchy would be provided by selected former army officers. It was hoped that ex-soldiers would join in droves. This did not happen. Instead, those who did turn up to the recruitment centres were mostly attracted by the lure of regular wages, had no military experience, no sense of discipline, and certainly no loyalty to their new employers, in any case not to the point of risking their lives. Others were criminals seeking a licence to loot or members of resistance groups sent to join in order to snatch weapons at the first opportunity or to act as informants. Needless to say, the National Guard proved to be just as unreliable as the Iraqi police when confronted with attacks from the resistance.
The situation in this respect has deteriorated to the point where the whole police force of Ramadi - a city with 400,000 inhabitants - has resigned en masse, in protest against the state of emergency declared in October by Allawi's government. In the northern capital Mosul, it is estimated that 10% at most of the police force is still turning up for duty and most ING units have deserted. As to the Iraqi National Guard, it has been showing increasing signs of unrest over the past two months. In recent street gun-fights, where the ING was engaged alongside US troops, there have been some cases of ING regulars handing over their weapons to resistance groups or even turning them against the US troops. Cases of desertion have become even more frequent. On 29 December, after a 111-strong ING unit based near Samarra had deserted with their weapons following the death of their commanding officer in a terrorist attack, Allawi announced that the ING would be disbanded the following week and integrated into the fledgling Iraqi army - which may well be a way of selectively disarming those ING units which are considered too unreliable.
But this also means that to all intents and purposes, the US leaders are back at square one, without any significant forces to rely on, other than their own soldiers. Except that the resistance they are facing today seems far stronger than it was a few months ago.
The bloodbath in Falluja will leave indelible hatred
When the US leaders decided to launch their offensive against Falluja, they did so under the pretext that this town was a hotbed of terrorists. They claimed it harboured "foreign fighters" and al-Zarkawi, Bush's favourite bogeyman. They probably hoped that by bombing the town into the ground they would make such a frightening example that it would drive the rest of the Iraqi population away from the resistance, for fear of being subjected to the same treatment. Such methods have a name - terrorism. Yet they justified this act of terrorism by... the "war against terrorism".
It should be recalled that, quite apart from the general situation in Iraq over the past 22 months, the population of Falluja has many reasons to be deeply hostile to the occupation forces. It was in Falluja that, on the 28th and 30th April 2003, the US troops fired at a demonstration staged by the town's youth against the transformation of their school into a US barracks, leaving 13 dead among the protesters. It was there again that, last April, during a first failed attempt at taking over control of the town, the US army killed an estimated 3,000 people - although the exact number will never be known. In the end, to avoid a wholesale uprising by the 300,000-strong population, the US troops had to withdraw, under the cover of a face-saving "peace deal".
So, yes, the population of Falluja had every reason to want the occupying forces out of their town. And they certainly did not need the armed resistance - let alone al-Zarkawi or any "foreign fighters" - to encourage them to feel this way.
But this defiance was just not acceptable for the US leaders, all the more so because it was creating a precedent. Other towns like Samarra, Ramadi, Baquba, etc.. in the Sunni Triangle were threatening to follow Falluja's example. And the occupation forces just could not afford this. So they decided to strike and to make an example.
On 4 November last, 12,000 Marines and 2,500 Iraqi Special Forces launched their offensive. According to the US generals, the operation was supposed to be over in a few days. After all, the number of potential fighters in the city was estimated to be no more than 2,000 and the US troops had an overwhelming superiority in troops numbers and firepower, not to mention their total monopoly of the air. And yet, exactly two months later, on January 4, the spokesman of the Marines, Colonel Clark Matthew admitted that there were still areas in the town that its troops did not control and that every night the bunkers they occupied in the city were attacked by guerillas. At the time of writing, the US Air Force is still carry out "targeted bombings" every day.
According to the reports which have filtered from Falluja, there is nothing left but rubble and ruins in the town and the on-going bombing is destroying those few houses which had been left partly standing and which are therefore considered suspect. In the days before the attack, the town was bombed for several days both by heavy artillery and from the air. The evidence available shows that some of the artillery shells used a kind of napalm - a mixture of fuel and gel which is set alight when the shell explodes and sticks to the skin, turning people into human torches. The Pentagon admitted to using this ammunition, claiming, however, that unlike napalm, it was less damaging for the environment because of the particular kind of fuel which was used! And these sadistic killers claim to be defending the values of "freedom" and "democracy"?
During the attack itself, the Marines had to fight "for every ruin, every house, even every room" - according to an Iraqi photographer who was there during the fighting - blowing their way in with hand grenades as they were progressing, regardless of who got hurt, civilian or fighter.
How many civilians died in the attack? Even if between half and 3/4 of the 300,000 population had left the town beforehand, it would still mean that between 75,000 and 150,000 were still there, including many people too old to flee. The only estimate of civilian casualties available was given by the Red Crescent on the basis of incomplete reports it had from the town's hospitals - 6,000 dead! But once again no-one will ever know the real casualty figure. The only certainty is that this was a bloodbath that will long be remembered and not just in Falluja.
Officially, over 50 Marines were killed during the attack - almost as many as during the first month of the invasion of Iraq, when they were fighting Saddam Hussein's army. US officials claimed that 1,200 to 1,600 "insurgents" were killed and 1,000 taken prisoner. But they had to admit that among these 1,000 prisoners only 15 had been found to be "foreigners" (a very small number for a town which is a crossroads between Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia!). As for al-Zarkawi, there was no trace of him, of course. As general Shahwani admitted to the AFP agency: "What we have now is an empty city almost destroyed... and most of the insurgents are free. They have gone either to Mosul or to Baghdad or other areas." But then, anyone could have predicted this, thereby only highlighting the fact that for the US leaders this was nothing but a terrorist operation against the population.
The nature and objectives of the resistance
Ever since the beginning of the attack on Falluja, the resistance has raised its profile to a new level in all the main towns of the Sunni Triangle, including some which were relatively calm, like Tikrit. Outside the Sunni Triangle, Mosul, which had been relatively unaffected by the attacks of the resistance, has also erupted, to the extent that the US troops had to call in Kurdish reinforcements and to date, the resistance remains in control of some of Mosul's districts.
Obviously the resistance groups are trying to capitalise on the anger generated by the bloodbath in Falluja. Whether they succeed in the long term remains to be seen. But by launching their attack on Falluja, the US leaders were gambling on the fact that it would terrify the Iraqi population enough to isolate the resistance. So far it seems they have lost their gamble.
Of course, the resistance is not, by far, a homogeneous movement and the relative strength of its various components is not known, if only because they are underground groups with no public voice. The majority of these groups are certainly Sunni fundamentalists and although the groups are separate entities, many of them state their allegiance to a Council of Sunni Clerics which was based in Falluja up until recently. Other resistance groups are said to be comprised of remnants of the Baath party (which exists officially in exile, but has not endorsed armed resistance so far), of the army and various nationalist or regionalist factions. But beyond these differences, there seem to be a number of common characteristics in the policy they follow.
First, of course, there is the use of terrorist or guerilla methods. There is, of course, a difference between expecting from resistance fighters that they should commit suicide by blowing themselves up next to a US column, and expecting them to take part in an ambush against such a column - even if the result is sometimes the same.
Using suicide attacks is sentencing one's supporters to death, for the sake of killing an enemy, thereby denying them the prospect of any future to look forward to and the right to fight for their cause, let alone to achieve anything. Adding to this, the indiscriminate nature of such a form of terrorism, those who advocate its use are murderers hiding under the cover of religion or whatever other cause - and it is not hard to imagine the sort of inhuman dictatorship they would establish if they achieved political power.
But those using guerilla methods, in which groups of armed individuals fight their own war outside any control from the population, cannot defend the interests of the Iraqi people either, even if such actions receive a certain amount of support. Especially as, once the armed guerilla have melted into the landscape, it is usually the local population around the location of the attack which takes the brunt of the retaliation. This is another way of using the population as cannon-fodder, under the cover of fighting in its name. Of course, guerilla methods can provide a means to train and build a military machine which, once it becomes powerful enough, can be a lever to take power, not just against the "enemy", but also against the population if need be. It is not for nothing that so many guerilla leaders of the Third World, no matter how radical their language was, have become bloody dictators once in power.
Beyond using terrorist and guerilla methods, it is obvious that the resistance groups have all striven to paralyse Allawi's puppet government ever since the "handover of power", last June. Indeed, since that date their main targets seem to have been "collaborators" - high-ranking politicians associated with the US-British authorities or the Allawi government and members of the Iraqi repressive machinery. To some extent this policy has been successful since, for instance, after a while Allawi was unable to find anyone willing to be appointed governor of some provinces (like the Anbar province which includes Falluja and Ramadi) or police chief of some towns (including a big city like Samarra). In so doing, the resistance succeeded in exposing the isolation of the Allawi government and its total dependence on the occupation forces.
The other common objective of all the resistance groups has been to try to derail the coming election. Not all the components of the resistance have the same reasons for this. Some of the more radical fundamentalist groups would oppose any election whoever organised it. Others are probably motivated by their determination to see the back of the occupation forces before coming out into the open, for whatever reason. There are also groups, which may be religious, Baathists or nationalists, which would not necessarily object to joining the electoral process, even under the occupation, but would prefer to wait for a more favourable time, while consolidating their credit by making an uncompromising stand against the US-British occupation. Besides, these groups know that if the electoral process does take off the ground after all, they will have another chance to join it in the next election planned for the end of 2005.
What is significant there again, however, are the methods used by all these groups to achieve these two objectives.
In their attempt to paralyse the Allawi government, for instance, they have not just targeted top regime officials, but also ordinary workers. An Iraqi union, for instance, denounced the kidnapping of train crews on the Baghdad-Mosul and Basra-Nasiryiah lines - presumably with the aim of disrupting rail transport. There have been numerous attacks against teachers in universities as well as social and health workers, who are considered by some groups as "collaborators" because they are employed by the government. Not to mention hundreds of unemployed who have been killed while queuing for government jobs.
Likewise when it comes to the 30 January election. In many towns, election workers recruited to check voters' personal data on the food ration cards, which will be used as registration certificates on election day, have been murdered by resistance groups. These terrorist tactics have been effective, since in a number of areas election workers have resigned, to the extent that, for instance, in the governorate where Mosul is located, there is no election commission at the time of writing. Moreover, the UN has had to reduce the planned number of polling stations from 30,000 to just 9,000.
In any case, such methods speak volumes for the contempt in which the resistance holds the Iraqi working population and poor!
Question marks on the election
On 30 January, Iraqi voters are supposed to elect a Transitional National Assembly of 275 members, which will then have nine months to draft a constitution before putting it to the vote in a referendum in October 2005, and organising a new assembly election in December 2005. In addition, voters in the three Kurdish provinces will elect an Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly of 105 members. Voters in each one of the country's 18 provinces will elect governing councils. All these elections are organised according to a list system. Each voter votes for one list in each election and each list will be allocated a number of seats proportional to its votes.
For months already, the fine-tuning of the lists for these elections has generated farcical bickering and bargaining between the 230 parties which have sought registration with Allawi's administration. The only reason for many of these parties to seek registration was to try to get the name of their founder included on one of the few lists which are likely to get a significant share of the vote. At the same time parties organising the country's three main minorities (Shia, Sunni and Kurds) which heavily dominated these lists, were all keen to find representatives of other minorities in the hope of draining votes from their ranks, without losing their expected hegemony among their respective minorities.
In total 70 lists have been registered so far, including anything between 15 and 275 candidates. The main lists are: the "Iraki United Alliance", bringing together the two main Shia parties; the party of ex-US favourite Ahmed Chalabi, a small Sunni-dominated party and a few individuals, Shia, Kurds and Turcoman; the "National Front", which is formed by Allawi's Iraqi National Accord with various satellite groups; and there is a list led by the two Kurdish parties, the KDP and PUK. Among the smaller lists, it is worth noting that the Iraqi Communist Party has formed a "People's Union" list, which includes candidates from all minorities, on a programme advocating, among other things, the separation of state and religion.
There are, however, two unresolved questions. One is whether the Shia fundamentalist movement of Moqtadah al-Sadr will take part in the election, and if not, whether he will call on his supporters to boycott it. The second is the attitude of the main Sunni parties which, to date, have still to register a list.
Al-Sadr has been under pressure from the US and Allawi to stand in this election. In December a number of his leading supporters were arrested under spurious charges. There followed negotiations which led to their release and to a rumour claiming that al-Sadr's supporters would be on the main Shia list. Al-Sadr himself confirmed it to the press, but immediately proceeded to say that he would only join this list provided ayatollah Ali Sistani, the power broker behind it, got a commitment from the occupation forces on a deadline for their departure from Iraq. This was another way of not refusing to stand on the Shia list, while reiterating a tough-sounding line against the occupation. As a result al-Sadr was dropped from the Shia list.
In the meantime, al-Sadr's supporters are busy campaigning for themselves, organising a national protest against power cuts, with a demonstration in Baghdad, while his militiamen are hunting down black-marketeers and organising the distribution of petrol and kerosene in Sadr City, the capital's Shia slum. Al-Sadr has made no secret of his intention to turn his militia into a political movement at some point. And he is definitely working to build support for it with a certain amount of success. But when and how he will decide to move remains an open question.
The question over the Sunni parties' participation has been an on-going saga for the past two months. With the public support of the Sunni Council of Clerics, these parties have called for the election to be postponed until some order returns to the Sunni Triangle. Faced with US refusal, they have been caught between their fear of being discredited among the Sunni minority and being subjected to retaliation from the resistance, if they stand in the election, and if they do not, the risk of being politically marginalised by not being represented in the new institutions. Either way they lose, which is obviously giving these politicians a few headaches, which they will have to resolve before the deadline for the list registration which has been extended until 15 January especially for their benefit.
More threats to come
The real question, however, is what the attitude of the Iraqi population will be to this election. Will the Shia population follow the lead of the main Shia party despite the occupation? Will al-Sadr take the risk of calling for a boycott and organising it, which would bring him into direct conflict with the US forces - something which he has tried to avoid since the siege of Najaf, last Summer. And if he does, will he be followed by a sizeable section of the Shia population?
In the Sunni areas, will the threats of the armed resistance deter voters from turning up at the polling stations? Or are they already so alienated by the brutality of the occupation forces that they will boycott the vote anyway?
And will the occupation forces prove capable of protecting enough polling stations against the resistance to allow Allawi and the UN to declare the election valid without a full re-run?
These questions will only be answered on 30 January, assuming that a major outbreak of insurgency does not take place before that, thereby preventing the whole election process from taking place.
But whatever happens, this election is a farce which has nothing to do with democracy. Not because of the predictable fraud or because the only observers sent by the Ottawa conference to monitor the vote will be "observing" from the safety of Jordan, for security reasons.
No, it will be a farce because of the conditions in which it is taking place. On one side, there is the state terrorism of US-British imperialism, with its arsenal of bombs and tanks, its 170,000 heavily armed soldiers, and its determination to reduce Iraq into a vassal state, under a pliable regime. And on the other side, there is the terrorism of reactionary armed groups born out of the western invasion of Iraq, who consider the Iraqi population as disposable cannon-fodder and dream of various forms of dictatorships. What sort of "democratic election" can there be when voters are caught between these two threats? In this situation, the real issue is not what they put in the ballot box, but what they find outside when they leave the polling station - assuming they do vote. And what they find is a bloody war, which claims dozens of lives every day and can claim theirs at any time.
If, as it seems likely, this election is virtually boycotted in the Sunni areas, the Transitional Assembly will only be considered legitimate, at best, in the Shia and Kurdish regions. But it will be seen as irrelevant in the Sunni regions and this will push more people into the arms of the armed resistance, for lack of any other option, thereby encouraging it to step up its activity.
But even if the turnout in the Sunni areas is significant enough for the Transitional Assembly to have a minimum of credibility among the Sunni, they will soon realise that they are being marginalised by the Shia alliance, which will undoubtedly use its parliamentary majority to occupy as much political space as it can, at the expense of the Sunni. This will inevitably alienate the Sunni minority. Faced with the prospect of losing not only the virtual monopoly they used to have for so long in the state machinery but most of their positions, more and more Sunni will turn towards forces which claim to represent their interests against the Shia threat, in particular among the resistance.
In either case, therefore, the resistance is likely to be strengthened by the outcome of this election. By the same token, the centrifugal forces which are already expressing themselves may become more vocal. In Kurdistan, a section of the Kurdish population is becoming impatient because the reconstruction they were promised has still to materialise and they blame this on the on-going war in the Sunni areas. Likewise, in the Shia centre of the country, south of Baghdad, a council of high-ranking clerics has already launched a campaign to demand autonomous status so as to isolate their area from the terrorist activity in the Sunni Triangle and the British-occupied south. In addition, the fact that against this backdrop, the US army resorts to using Kurdish militias as auxiliaries in repressing the Sunni insurgency in Falluja and Mosul, threatens to erect a wall of blood between the two minorities.
Ultimately, even if Blair and Bush are able to boast of a credible turnout in this election and to portray this as a "democratic" achievement, the powder keg created by the invasion of Iraq will not be any more stable. If anything, the threat of an implosion is increasing. And the only methods that imperialism knows to confront this threat are those it has already demonstrated in the Falluja massacres. More bloodbaths are awaiting the Iraqi people. This is the only prospect that imperialism has to offer them. Yet if the Iraqi people are to have a chance to forge their own future, the only way is for western troops to go, now!