Iran – Sailors fall victim to imperialist policies


Iran – Sailors fall victim to imperialist policies

CLAIM AND counter-claim from the Iranian and British governments has followed the Iranian government’s capture of fifteen British marines and sailors, allegedly for trespassing into Iranian waters. Both the British sailors and the Iranians recently captured by the US should also be released. [Since this editorial was written, the sailors have been released.]

Regardless of whether the British sailors did enter Iranian waters, the New Labour government bear responsibility for these young men and a woman having become pawns in an international political confrontation. It is Blair’s total support for the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq that led these marines and sailors, along with around 8,000 other British troops, to be stationed in Iraq in the first place. It is no accident that one of the most popular proposals to solve the crisis on the BBC’s discussion board was to offer to swap Bush and Blair for the fifteen sailors!

The occupation has created a living hell for the population of Iraq. Even the British government no longer denies the estimate that 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of it. In addition, over one hundred British and over three thousand US soldiers have been killed, with more than 20,000 seriously wounded.

Far from resulting in an increase in US imperialism’s power and prestige, as Bush and the neo-cons fantasised it would, the occupation has, as we predicted, led to an enormous undermining of US imperialism and its most loyal lieutenant, the British ruling class. This is graphically demonstrated by both powers’ impotence in the face of Iran’s capture of the sailors.

One of the many unintended consequences of the invasion of Iraq has been the strengthening of Iran as a regional power. (For more analysis on Iran see April’s Socialism Today).

US imperialism sees this as a threat to their interests in the region. But, as we have explained, despite Bush’s posturing, a ground invasion of Iran has always been ruled out given the enormous ‘overstretch’ in the US army as a result of the Iraq debacle, and the undoubted determined mass resistance they would face from the Iranian population, much greater than was faced in Iraq.

Even the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the US or Israel would result in the deaths of large numbers of Iranian civilians and would cause an enormous increase in regional conflict and hatred for imperialism amongst the masses of the Middle East.

Iran could in that situation block the Straits of Hormuz and therefore much of the world’s oil supplies, probably provoking a worldwide economic crisis. For these reasons a majority of the US ruling class oppose any such measure and want instead to take the ‘diplomatic road’.

Against this, however, the Bush regime has further provoked conflict by the capturing of five Iranians in Iraq that it claims were part of an ‘elite squad’ of Iranian soldiers. In fact it has now been revealed that this was part of a US attempt to abduct two senior Iranian security officials who were on an official visit to northern Iraq. Having failed to take officials it seems they took ordinary soldiers.

Iran retaliated by taking ordinary British sailors. As ever it is the working-class men and women in the armed forces that suffer the consequences of imperialism’s policies.

Imperialism’s record

THE BRITISH sailors and the Iranians captured by the US should be released. Yet when hundreds of individuals are still being detained without trial in Guantanamo Bay, appearing on TV in chains, Bush’s shrieks of outrage about Iran’s “inexcusable behaviour” will ring hollow amongst the masses in Iran and the Middle East.

Anger with US and British imperialism in Iran did not begin with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The imperialist powers dominated Iran, like the Middle East as a whole, for over a century; firstly via direct colonial rule and then by backing regimes that would act in imperialism’s interests.

Hence British and US imperialism’s backing for Saddam, including providing him with chemical weapons, in the brutal eight year Iran/Iraq war. In 1988, near the end of the war, US missiles shot down an Iranian civilian plane, killing all 290 passengers. The US has never apologised and it is widely believed in Iran that this was not an accident but an attempt to force Iran to end the war which it did a month later.

British imperialism carries particular odium amongst the Iranian population for its central role in encouraging the CIA to organise the 1953 coup against Dr Mohammed Mossadegh, a democratically elected prime minister, and installing the brutal dictatorship of the Shah, which was only overthrown in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Mossadegh’s ‘crime’ was to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil company (now British Petroleum).

It is therefore unsurprising that the Iranian regime is using the capture of the British soldiers to make ‘good theatre’. While the small demonstration outside the British embassy in Tehran appears to have been largely staged by the Revolutionary Guard, it is probably true that the parading of the British sailors on Iranian TV is gaining some popular support.

The Iranian regime is based on right-wing reactionary political Islam and is increasingly unpopular amongst the Iranian masses, particularly youth. While President Ahmadinejad initially won popularity by attacking the Iranian elite’s privileges, his policies are fundamentally pro-capitalist, as he demonstrated with the brutal suppression of the Tehran bus workers’ strike. He is now increasingly unpopular.

There are splits within the regime with a section considering Ahmadinejad’s nationalist rhetoric a liability, particularly those who would like to move towards opening up the Iranian economy and introducing more neo-liberal policies and would therefore like to find an accommodation with US imperialism.

Neither imperialist interference in Iran or Iraq, nor interference by the Iranian regime in the region, offers a way forward for the peoples of Iran or Iraq. The key to a just and democratic solution to the problems in the Middle East lies with the region’s workers and peasants, supported by the international working class.