Iraq: ‘Elections’ can’t hide the deepening crisis

US IMPERIALISM’S bloody war in Iraq worsens every day. The death toll is
mounting and Iraq is plunged deeper into civil war and ethnic and religious
clashes. Only days after Bush’s ‘coronation’ for a second term, however,
‘elections’ take place on 30 January.

Tony Saunois, Secretary, Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)

Far from ushering in a ‘democratic’, peaceful Iraq as the occupying
imperialist powers promise, this pantomime of a ‘democratic process’ will
deepen the crisis facing the Iraqi people and Bush’s regime in Washington.

Workers and young people worldwide, rightly, demonstrated their sympathy
and solidarity for the 200,000 killed by the Asian tsunami. But the Iraqi
peoples have suffered their own military tsunami since US and British
imperialism unleashed their invasion.

Since the war began over 100,000 Iraqi people have been killed, hundreds of
thousands more injured or maimed. Others have suffered torture and humiliation
in the prisons of the US and British military. Millions more have been victims
of food and water shortages or joined the flood of refugees driven from their
homes and cities.

Fallujah, a city of 350,000 people, was razed to the ground and virtually
its entire population driven into refugee camps following a military
bombardment which makes the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war
seem mild by comparison.

Alongside this human suffering has come the country’s economic rape.
Privatisation measures have resulted in a bonanza for construction companies
like Halliburton (companies that US vice-president Cheney is directly linked

The devastation does not end there. Ancient archaeological sites in the
city of Babylon, where over 2,000 US troops were stationed, have been
despoiled and 2,600-year-old street pavements crushed by US tanks.

However, the imperialist powers’ looting and plunder has been a debacle for
US imperialism. Every day brings bigger problems as they are drawn deeper and
deeper into the quagmire.

Growing resistance

A SEEMINGLY endless conveyor belt of bad news passes over Bush’s and
Blair’s desks. Most important is the continued escalation of violence and the
growing resistance of the Iraqi people.

British soldiers are on trial accused of using brutal torture methods
similar to those used by the US military at Abu Ghraib prison. These
revelations follow the US’s official announcement that the search for weapons
of mass destruction revealed nothing.

In another unrealised ‘war objective’ the CIA now reports that, far from
being a crucial front in the ‘war against terror’, Iraq has become a breeding
ground for a ‘new generation of professional terrorists’. Every day new
reports and revelations undermine support for this war and for Bush and Blair
at home.

Despite deploying over 150,000 US troops, the occupation forces have failed
to take control of the country. The USA has had to agree to 30,000 more troops
being made available for Iraq on a ‘temporary’ basis – this deployment is
likely to become permanent.

As armed resistance in Iraq has grown, the occupation forces have been
incapable of crushing it despite using brutal means of repression such as
those used in Fallujah, Mosul or Samarra.

When Bush asked Colin Powell about the progress of the war, Powell
incredibly admitted "we are losing." He also said that while he would like to
see US troops out of Iraq as "quickly as possible", that was "not possible
because of the strength of the insurgency" which does not allow the Bush
administration to set a timeframe for withdrawal this year.

Bush, in denial about the real situation in Iraq, dismissed Powell from his
presence! Yet there is no serious prospect of a military victory. Zbigniew
Brzezinski, former President Carter’s National Security Adviser, spelled out
what will be needed for a military victory: 500,000 troops, US$500 billion
expenditure, a military draft and the introduction of a war-time tax! Even
then he estimates it would take at least ten years – not an enticing prospect
for US imperialism.

The Iraq war has provoked the largest anti-war movement in history
internationally. This would be even greater if such a policy were attempted.
In the USA it would trigger a social revolt of the scale of that against the
Vietnam war.

The military impasse and the existing conditions are already undermining US
troops’ morale and confidence. The crisis is compounded by the fact that
soldiers are compelled to undertake longer tours of duty, rather than the
six-month stints used during the Vietnam war.

One-third of the US army in Iraq are troops from the national reserve. The
commander of the national reserve, Lt Gen James Helmly recently wrote a memo
to the Joint Chiefs of Staff warning that the entire national reserve force of
200,000 was "rapidly degenerating into a broken force."

Army of occupation

THE OCCUPATION forces now confront an Iraqi resistance larger than the
total number of foreign troops occupying the country. General Shahwani,
director of Iraq’s new intelligence services, says the resistance has now
grown to over 200,000 – 40,000 of them considered "hardcore fighters".

Clearly the growing resistance cannot be crushed militarily. Even in those
towns that the US claims to have pacified, the forces simply regrouped and
then re-emerged. Three months ago the US claimed it had fully "pacified"
Samarra. On 10 January the local police chief was shot dead when caught in the
cross-fire of a gun battle between US troops and guerrilla fighters.

The security situation is so bad that in four of Iraq’s provinces (with
around 40% of the population), including Baghdad, the elections scheduled for
30 January cannot take place ‘safely’. 150,000 Iraqis living in Britain or the
234,000 in the USA will have more opportunity to vote in these ‘democratic
elections’ than 40% of the population living in Iraq!

There is a boycott of the election by the overwhelming majority of Sunni
Iraqis, mainly in Iraq’s central belt and making up about 20% of the

Even the ‘moderate’ Iraqi Islamic party, the main Sunni Arab faction in
post-invasion governments, has withdrawn from the elections. The Sunni
minority, whose elite ruled under Saddam Hussein, fear they will become an
oppressed minority under a Shia-led government.

The dominant Shia factions are determined to use these ‘elections’ to get
their hands on power and establish themselves as the ruling force. Shia leader
Sistani, on the United Arab Alliance list in the elections, argues it is more
important to vote than to pray.

This is despite the fact that some significant forces such as the Shia
leader, Moqtada al-Sadr have kept a distance from the ‘elections’ while
several of his aides are running on separate and competing lists.

Under an imperialist army of occupation there can be no genuinely free or
democratic elections in Iraq. Because of fear of assassination, most
candidates standing in the elections don’t publish their names – voters will
vote for party lists without knowing who the candidates are!

The US-appointed Iraqi government has clamped down on ‘dissident’ sections
of the media – even expelling the more independent Arab network al-Jazeera
from the country.

All this shows what Bush means when he speaks of installing ‘democratic’
regimes throughout the Arab world. Any government emerging from these
elections will have no legitimacy on an all-Iraqi basis and would offer no
alternative to imperialism and capitalism.

Sectarian conflict

US IMPERIALISM is determined that the elections go ahead, however, partly
for political prestige reasons together with the need for political legitimacy
for its puppet regime in Baghdad. This will further alienate the Sunni
minority. Yet to postpone them would threaten a mass uprising by the Shia

US imperialism desperately needs a strategy to expedite withdrawal from
Iraq. Yet the scale of the insurgency and the present catastrophe prevents it
from finding one in the foreseeable future.

The growing sectarian conflict between the Shia majority and Sunni minority
is partly being fostered by US imperialism’s policies. Far from resolving the
crisis, the elections could intensify the developing civil war between the
Sunni and Shia. Bush’s promises that elections would help ‘pacify’ Iraq will
rapidly turn to ashes.

The contradiction between the need for an exit strategy and the military
and social catastrophe is forcing US imperialism to explore other policies to
conduct the war. The neo-cons around Bush seem to be positively supporting the
Balkanisation of Iraq (splitting it into mutually hostile territories). They
favour setting up a compliant Shia theocratic regime (with most of the oil
reserves) alongside a Sunni regime largely based in Iraq’s central regions.

Such a policy would have massive consequences internationally, provoking
further upheaval throughout the Arab world where Sunni Arabs form an
overwhelming majority despite being in a minority in Iraq.

There is also the possibility of the regime in Saudi Arabia collapsing with
the coming to power of an even more reactionary, anti-western regime of an al-Qa’ida

Some neo-cons are so crazed at such possibilities that they are prepared to
consider attempting a military intervention into Saudi Arabia. Imperialism is
massively overstretched in Iraq. How could they pursue such a policy in Saudi
Arabia or other countries?

Sections of Bush’s administration are also looking at trying to move on to
Iran, hoping to establish a more pro-US regime in Tehran. US military
personnel are already in Iran, gathering information of possible targets for
air or military strikes.

Paradoxically, Iraq was attacked under the pretext of possessing weapons of
mass destruction where none existed. Yet Iran, with the potential for a
weapons programme, has not suffered the same fate.

If US imperialism tries to invade Iran, however, it will meet far greater
obstacles. Iran has three times Iraq’s population, there is even less of a
base to rest upon and US imperialism already faces massive military
overstretch in Iraq. Such discussions amongst the neo-cons show the Alice in
Wonderland fantasy world they inhabit.

More far-sighted capitalist commentators view the danger of a civil war
between Shias and Sunnis with dread. The International Herald Tribune warned:
"When the United States was debating whether to invade Iraq, there was one
outcome that everyone agreed had to be avoided at all costs: a civil war
between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that would create instability throughout the
Middle East and give terrorists a new, ungoverned region that they could use
as a base of operations.

"The coming elections… are looking more and more like the beginning of
the worst-case scenario. It’s time to talk about postponing the vote".

Such warnings however fall on deaf ears. The Bush regime is now considering
using the ‘Salvador’ option of using elite death squads to track down and kill
Sunni fighters which could include following them into Syria for

This reflects US frustration that it cannot defeat the insurgency. Retired
General Gary Luck told Newsweek: "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just
go on as we are. We have to find a way to take the offensive against the
insurgents. Right now, we are playing defence and we are losing."

Articles in the New York Times and Washington Post argue that: "we have to
have a proper election in Iraq so that we can have a proper civil war" and
that the US should "see Iraqi factionalisation as a useful tool". This shows
clearly the shift taking place in US strategy and tactics in the Iraq war.

The 30 January elections will only deepen the quagmire for US and British
imperialisms. Capitalist politicians will portray them as a justification for
their policy. However, such gloss will rapidly tarnish and the crisis will
again intensify with a developing sectarian conflict.

Constituent assembly

THE CWI opposes participating in any such fraudulent elections and supports
a boycott by the Iraqi people. This needs to be linked to the idea of
convening a constituent assembly to determine Iraq’s future, with elections
organised by non-sectarian elected committees of all the Iraqi peoples and not
by a US-appointed stooge government.

No democratic regime can be established in Iraq while the occupation
continues. The struggle to withdraw all occupying powers from Iraq and the
whole of the Middle East needs to be strengthened.

Faced with an occupation force, the Iraqi people have the right to defend
themselves. The CWI supports the establishment of a non-sectarian defence
force made up of both Shia and Sunni workers, youth and the Iraqi peoples.
This force should be controlled by democratically elected committees of
workers, students, the unemployed and peasants.

However, our defence of the Iraqi people’s right to protect themselves and
to fight for the withdrawal of the occupying forces does not mean we support
all the actions of the resistance, especially by self-proclaimed resistance
groups made up of reactionary right-wing Islamic groupings of an al-Qa’ida

The assassination of Iraqi trade union leader Hadi Salih cannot be
justified, even if he collaborated with the government and received money from
it. The CWI supports the building of democratic independent trade unions free
from state or government influence or interference and supports a struggle to
withdraw all of the occupying powers and oppose the stooge government in Iraq.

However, the way to oppose the policies and methods of union leaders such
as Hadi Salih is through democratic debate and discussion and by arguing for a
socialist alternative that will defend the working class’ democratic rights
and interests.

That means a struggle for the right to organise free trade unions, for the
democratic election and control of all union leaders, the right to free
assembly and meetings, for a programme to struggle for decent wages and
conditions, opposition to privatisation and for democratic workers’ control
and management.

That is the way to defeat union leaders who support collaborating with the
government or occupation forces rather than individual assassinations. Such
killings only deepen sectarian divisions and can also be used against the
working class and socialists in future.

The guerrilla organisation Sendero Luminoso brutally used these methods
against independent worker activists and socialists in Peru in the 1980s. They
did this to intimidate workers and prevent them from conducting their own
independent struggles, developing socialist ideas and building their own
organisations outside of Sendero Luminoso’s control.

Peru’s desperate social conditions allowed Sendero to evolve into a
messianic force which used brutal methods against its opponents – including
the working class. Socialist oppose their use in Iraq also.

Pressure on Bush

THE DEBACLE facing US imperialism in Iraq is already provoking wider social
and political problems for the Bush regime at home. Even since his election
victory opposition to the war has grown. For the first time most of the
population, 56%, is against continuing the war.

US soldiers’ rising death toll – now nearing 2,000 with over 25,000 injured
or maimed – and the absence of any prospect of victory will fuel this
opposition to the war. Some US soldiers made their feelings very clear to
Rumsfeld when he visited them in Iraq.

Bush will face growing demands from US workers, soldiers and their families
and youth for the troops to be withdrawn. The US anti-war movement will
undoubtedly become even stronger and be a crucial part of the struggle to
defeat Bush, US and British imperialism.

The deepening crisis in Iraq shows the need to build support for an
international socialist alternative. Capitalism and imperialism have brought
carnage for the peoples of the region. Only the withdrawal of all imperialist
forces from the Middle East, the establishment of a democratic socialist
confederation in Iraq and a democratic socialist federation of the whole
region will offer a real solution to this bloodshed.