War On Iraq: The Pressures Grow

THE ARK Royal sailed off to the Gulf last weekend as part of a build-up of troops, warships and armaments in readiness for a war with Iraq.

At the same time, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed an order to deploy 62,000 more US troops. By the beginning of February, 150,000 troops are expected to be in the Gulf – enough to launch a full-scale attack on Iraq.

But the timetable for a spring war (before the summer heat makes fighting more difficult) has not been going entirely according to plan. In the absence of a ‘smoking gun’ i.e. clear evidence that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, the US administration has been coming under increased pressure to delay an attack.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that 27 January – the date that Hans Blix the chief weapons’ inspector, is due to deliver his interim report – should not be seen as a ‘D-day’ for decision-making. His comments have been echoed by Blair.

Blair has been feeling the heat from New Labour MPs who do not want a war unless there is concrete evidence of the production of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and total UN support.

With or without UN backing, The Socialist is totally opposed to a war with Iraq. Any war would be to bolster and extend the power, profits and prestige of US imperialism on a global scale. John Bolton, No 3 in the US State Department, couldn’t have made the real situation clearer than when he said: “There is no such thing as the UN. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the US”. (Observer 12 January)

New Labour unrest

According to a Yougov poll last week, 30% of people in Britain think that seizing control of oil supplies would be the motive for war and 58% don’t believe that Saddam Hussein is a big enough threat to justify war. 32% oppose war under any circumstances, while only 13% support action by the US and Britain alone.

Even the Blairite Labour Party has had to reflect, however feebly, this unprecedented anti-war mood. The public division between Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and defence secretary Geoff Hoon is symptomatic of the pressure that New Labour ministers are coming under. A survey of local Labour Party officials pointed to mass resignations of rank-and-file members if Blair goes ahead with backing a US led war without UN approval. Former Minister Kate Hoey warned of “severe repercussions”, which could include ministerial resignations.

However, at his monthly press conference Blair refused to rule out the ‘Kosovan option’ of going it alone with Bush, without the backing of a second UN resolution. He clearly believes that the interests and prestige of British capitalism (and his own) require craven support for US imperialism.

If Blair were to decide to go down this road it would be a dangerous gamble. As some in the media have pointed out, war on Iraq could become Blair’s own ‘Suez’ – resulting in his downfall just as the ill-fated attack in 1956 led to the resignation of Prime Minister Eden.

The size of the anti-war movement in advance of military action is an indication of the huge protests which could engulf Britain, even if war had the fig-leaf of UN approval.

Events in North Korea demonstrate how international developments can still blow Bush’s war plans off course. They have certainly undermined his claims that war with Iraq is necessary because of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea is using its nuclear capability as a bargaining chip in a desperate attempt to secure security and economic concessions from the US. But it is a dangerous tactic that could spin out of control.

International relations are extremely unstable – an instability that would be hugely exacerbated by a war against Iraq. Already anti-imperialist sentiments have erupted in South Korea, Pakistan and throughout the Arab world. This would be further fuelled by war, pushing some in desperation to support terrorist methods.

The exact economic effects of war cannot be determined in advance, much will depend on the length and severity of the war itself. However, the world economy is already in the fragile state and a war could trigger or intensify an economic crisis.

The total financial cost of war could be much higher than estimates suggest, especially as the US is talking about a period of military occupation after the war has ended. As the Financial Times pointed out: “The fighting could be the easy bit”.

War momentum

Nevertheless, despite all the possible negative repercussions Bush could still, with the support of Blair, push ahead with war in the next couple of months. After Blix’s statement on weapons’ inspections, the price of oil went up in anticipation of a spring attack. Maximum pressure is now being exerted on the weapons inspectors to come up with the goods. The issue of interviewing Iraqi scientists could become a crucial one in the countdown to war.

The build-up of troops and weapons in the Gulf has taken on a momentum of its own. Sustaining public opinion, let alone financing and maintaining the morale of 100,000 troops in the desert, or bringing them back, would be extremely difficult if war were to be delayed. Anti-war protests have been taking place in many US cities, including 15,000 in Los Angeles in the last week.

Whatever the immediate perspectives for war, the anti-war movement needs to take advantage of the divisions that are opening up between and within the imperialist powers to deepen and extend its influence, especially in the workplaces.15 February, an international day of anti-war protest, will be an important focus for the movement which must be seriously built for (see pages 8 and 12).

Worsening prospects for the British economy, renewed militancy by firefighters, discontent with public services and growing anti-war protests could potentially coalesce into a substantial movement against Blair and New Labour. They could also lay the basis for the emergence of a new mass workers’ party and the growth of socialist ideas, which provide the only lasting solution to global conflict and war.