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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 June 2007

Iraq and Afghanistan

Withdraw occupation troops!

For workers' unity against war and terror

Many British people hope that, as prime minister, Gordon Brown will hasten the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. Brown though has ruled out an immediate withdrawal and has not promised to quicken the exit. He also appears committed to keeping a combat force in Afghanistan.

As Brown is being 'crowned' this week as Blair's successor, the socialist takes a look at the dire situation on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraq - Bush's military 'surge' a failure

Outgoing Prime minister Tony Blair knew the US government had no post-war reconstruction plans when he sent UK troops to Iraq in 2003, recent news that further confirms his role as pathetic poodle to US president George Bush. Blair was prepared for war one year before the invasion began, not to be stopped by the United Nations or poor intelligence in dodgy dossiers.

Bob Severn

While Bush, supported by Blair, gave the go-ahead for the invasion, the executors of the war were, as the Channel 4 documentary The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair shows, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

US defence secretary Rumsfeld and US vice president Cheney had big business links with the company Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg Brown Root. Both companies won no-bid contracts to loot Iraq's natural resources; another reminder that Iraq was invaded for oil and profits and not for democracy or humanitarianism.

Whether or not detailed plans for the post-invasion period had been made, the US-led 'coalition of the willing' was always going to be an unwelcome occupying force.

Iraq has been the fifth war that Blair has taken UK troops into, following the 'Desert Fox' Iraq operation in 1998 and interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Blair's lie of 'humane intervention' has been particularly exposed by the occupation of Iraq.

UK military interrogators were trained in Britain to use hooding, stressing, sleep deprivation, food deprivation and using noise when questioning detainees, techniques which may have resulted in deaths like that of Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel receptionist who died in British custody in 2003.

According to Dr Abdul Kareem Al Olbaidi, chair of the Iraqi Association of Child Mental Health, thanks to the war many of Iraq's children now suffer from behaviour disorders including delinquency, drug and substance abuse, and a 50% school truancy rate.

Over 600,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and casualties are increasing by more than 100 a day. As well, over 3,500 American and 150 British troops have now died since the war started in March 2003. In May 2007, 127 US soldiers were killed, the third highest death count of the occupation.

A recent US Pentagon report shows the US military 'surge' against Iraqi resistance forces to be, as widely expected, a failure. Sending 30,000 extra US troops mainly into Baghdad and Anbar province just moved the violence temporarily to other parts of the country.

Now the US is supplying certain Sunni Arab groups with arms, ammunition, cash and fuel to fight al-Qa'ida and other insurgents, despite the risk that these weapons could be turned back against American and Shia-led Iraqi government forces.

US commanders have said that the Sunni groups they are arming describe prime minister al-Malaki's government as illegitimate. Attempts by the west to arm proxy forces have failed many times before, including in Vietnam and Afghanistan, not forgetting the US helping to arm ex-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.

The Shia-dominated Iraq government has little power outside central Baghdad and has strong links to militia groups involved in some of the civil violence.

As Damien Cave reported in the International Herald Tribune (13 June): "In Shiite areas of the south, Sunni areas of the west and Kurdish areas of the north, Iraq's central government has become increasingly irrelevant as competing groups manoeuvre at the local level for control of public money and jobs."

The Iraqi parliament voted last week to replace the speaker of the house, Mahmoud Mashadani, a Sunni Arab, for failing to build consensus among Iraq's Shia, Sunni and Kurdish political groups.

One thing the Iraqi government has done though is clamp down on trade union rights. Striking oil workers in Sheiba, south Iraq, have been surrounded by troops while arrest warrants have been issued for senior officials from the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU). IFOU members have taken strike action over the proposed hydrocarbon law, further privatisation which would let western oil executives be part of an oil ministry council that could grant contacts to western oil companies.

The US and UK imperialist forces should be withdrawn from Iraq immediately. Their presence only results in many more deaths of Iraqi people as well as occupying troops. However, this does not mean that Iraq's future is safe if left to communal, tribal based and aspiring-capitalist leaders, who take advantage of sectarian divisions to further their own wealth and power.

An end to civil war and the prevention of a future break-up of the country can only be achieved through a united struggle of working-class and poor people in Iraq, including Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and Turcomen.

It is urgent that democratic multi-ethnic workers' defence forces are built to struggle against the occupation and unite against violence orchestrated by right-wing sectarian leaders.

The history of Iraq during Saddam's repressive rule included many examples of united struggle against that regime. Such struggle is necessary now, and needs to be based around a socialist programme to guarantee the sharing, planning, and development of Iraq's resources for the benefit of working-class people from all backgrounds.

British policy post-Blair

So far Gordon Brown has not deviated from Blair's plan for a slow reduction of British troops in Iraq down to 4,000 in 2008 'if conditions allow it'.

This is despite the fact that a number of UK military commanders have said that Britain's role in the Iraqi town of Basra is doing more harm than good and there have been reports that senior officers have produced plans to speed up withdrawal.

Former UK ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, joined this chorus when he said: "The presence of American and British and coalition forces is making things worse, not only inside Iraq but the wider region around Iraq".

Meyer thought that Brown is unlikely to announce a withdrawal without approval from the US government.

It is not just Brown who is keeping loyal to Bush and Blair though. Only ten Labour MPs voted for an inquiry into the Iraq war, a motion hypocritically called for by the Tories who supported the war in 2003.

Afghanistan - the slide towards increasing conflict

THE NEWS from Afghanistan last Monday morning was of the deaths of seven children in an Islamic school. They died in a US air strike.

Manny Thain

The barbarity was reinforced by a US commander justifying the killings on the basis that al-Qa'ida fighters had told the children to stay in the school. In his view, therefore, these children were expendable 'collateral'. The weekend of 16-17 June, which saw a bus bombing in the capital, Kabul, was another stark illustration of a country spiralling out of control.

Touted as a success in the 'war on terror' by US and British politicians, Afghanistan is really an example of the brutal consequences of imperialist intervention. They have helped create a failed and violent 'narco-state', fuelled by opium and ruled by gangsters, insurgents and corrupt politicians. The mass of the population is caught in the crossfire between Nato forces, the resurgent Taliban and powerful regional warlords.

After the horror of the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, the US regime unleashed a massive airborne assault on Afghanistan, where the right-wing Islamist terrorist group, al-Qa'ida, had its main bases. The reactionary Taliban was driven out by this assault and by other warlords, acting as the western powers' foot soldiers.

Afghanistan was devastated: its infrastructure smashed: thousands of civilians killed. Western governments promised to rebuild, and to deliver democracy, women's rights, jobs, electricity and water to a population reeling from 20 years of armed conflict, dictatorship and invasion. Nato deployed 35,000 troops in 2003.

Today, millions of Afghan people languish in dire poverty. The security situation deteriorates daily. Aid fails to reach the workers and poor. Matt Waldman, Oxfam's Afghanistan organiser, wrote in the guardian (26 May) that life expectancy in Daikundi province is 42 years and one in five children dies before the age of five. Nearly half of US aid goes to the five biggest US contractors in the country. Over 100,000 people have lost their homes in the volatile southern province of Helmand.

Murderous attacks

The hard-line tactics of US/Nato forces - air strikes, dawn raids, shooting civilians in streets and at checkpoints - are undermining what little support the Afghan 'government' has. They are also boosting support for the Taliban, and raising tensions within Nato. Although US special forces have the worst record, British and Canadian troops are also responsible for the marked increase in civilian casualties.

In early May, US marines shot dead 19 civilians. On 8 May, an air strike in Helmand killed over 20 - local people say 80. On 27-29 April, US air strikes killed 57 villagers in the western province of Herat: 17 were children under ten, 14 were old men, and ten were women. A foreign official commented that "the Americans went after one guerrilla commander and created a hundred more". (New York Times, 13 May)

Even the US stooge, president Hamid Karzai, has had to voice the widespread anger. In May, the hand-picked upper house of Afghanistan's parliament called on Nato to stop attacking insurgents, and for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The US is also pushing for massive poppy eradication. Without large-scale aid and alternative employment, however, this just hits the poorest farmers. And, under US guidance, hundreds of truck drivers and go-betweens are being arrested, while the main drug dealers - often linked to government officials (put in place by the US), warlords and the Taliban - operate with virtual impunity.

The opium trade is the largest single employer and export (worth around $3 billion), the equivalent of half the legal economy. Afghanistan is supplying 90% of the world's opium and this year's harvest is set to break all records. The social cost is enormous. The UN estimates that there are a million opium addicts among the 30 million population. Sixty thousand of them are children. (The Observer, 13 May)

Gordon Brown has hinted that more troops should be deployed to Helmand. There are now around 6,000 British soldiers in place. Fifty-four have been killed so far on operational duty. But the occupation of Afghanistan can no more deliver liberty and prosperity to Afghanistan than it can to Iraq.

George W Bush, of course, never had that intention. The bombardment from 2001 aimed to deliver a swift 'victory' to the US as a springboard to the long-planned invasion of Iraq. All the promises were false from the start. As Afghanistan slides remorselessly towards ever-increasing conflict, its peoples are left to suffer the dire consequences of imperialist lies and intervention.

End the imperialist intervention in Iraq. Withdraw the coalition troops now. For the freedom of the Iraqi people to determine their own future.

For full democratic rights, including the right to assembly, freedom of speech and to organise in trade unions and political parties. Defend minority rights.

Build workers' unity. For a socialist alternative to capitalism and imperialism. For a socialist confederation of Middle Eastern states.

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In The Socialist 21 June 2007:

New PM... same old Bosses' agenda

Brown stresses 'continuity' with Blair

Manchester council swings the axe

Workplace news

Postal and post office workers demand action

National shop stewards' network

Workers must fight Ford sell-off plans

UNISON Leadership get a roasting from angry delegates

No UNISON witch-hunt!

Greenwich UNISON wins concessions

NUT miss opportunity on pay

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Stop Hatchet Hewitt's NHS plans now

Blood centre workers fight job cuts plan

Socialist Party news and analysis

Something for everyone at the summer camp

How Cadbury's keeps shareholders sweet...

Arise... Sir Stephen who?

War and terrorism

Withdraw occupation troops!

Palestinian infighting blows apart 'national unity' government

Socialist students and ISR

Have Scottish students got free education?

Eye-witness from the G8

Why you should join ISR

Workplace news and analysis

Deskilling and destaffing - Tube bosses' dream

PCS leadership recommends new deal to members

Global Warming

Turning the tide for alternative energy

International socialist news

South Africa - third week for public-sector strike


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