Archive article from The Socialist Issue 293
Mass Action to
Get The Troops Out
Step Up Action Against This Bloody War
AS WE go to press, the battle for Baghdad seems about to begin.
It is still too early to get an exact picture, but if the first phase of the war is anything to go by the next stage could be far from the 'cakewalk' that some military analysts predicted.
The US/British war plans have not kept to the script. Superior military airpower was meant to create such 'shock and awe' that the regime would crumble, troops surrender and Iraqis in the towns rise up and welcome US and British forces as 'liberators' from the tyrant Saddam Hussein.
Instead, up until now US and British troops have met with determined resistance, far fewer Iraqi soldiers have defected than was expected, while US and British casualties have been unexpectedly high. Supply lines have come under attack and, according to UNICEF, in Basra - a city of two million people - there has been no water or electricity and a humanitarian disaster is developing. At least 100,000 children under five are at risk from disease.
Fierce fighting was waged over Umm Qasr, a town of just 5,000 compared to a population of seven million in Baghdad.
Of course, the US has overwhelming military superiority. The US administration believes its vital interests are at stake and is determined to fight to the bitter end to overthrow the Iraqi regime. The battle for Baghdad could still result in the collapse of the regime and this phase of the war could be over relatively quickly.
However, US and British troops could also become bogged down in a drawn out, guerrilla style, hand-to-hand fighting, which could drag on for weeks and months. No one can be sure how much resistance US and British forces will face. Although there is hatred for Saddam's vicious regime, there appears also to be a willingness by significant sections of the population to fight what is perceived, not as a liberating army but as a force of domination and conquest.
As one Iraqi returning from Jordan to Baghdad explained: "I'm not fighting for Saddam, I'm fighting for Iraq". Iraqi 'returnees' have paid up to £1,000 for taxi rides back to Iraq to fight the 'imperialist invaders'. Iraqi nationalism could prove to be a much greater force than US and British imperialism expected.
The situation could also be complicated by the 'war within a war' that could potentially break out between Turkish and Kurdish troops in the North.
A US opinion poll taken just after war started found that 41% expected US casualties to be no more than 100. General McCaffney, a retired US general, said on Newsnight that with heavy fighting they could reach 2,000 to 3,000.
A lengthy, bloody war would have an effect on public opinion in the US and in Britain.
In both countries, as expected, the outbreak of war resulted in an initial decrease in opposition. There is a feeling amongst some people, encouraged by some 'anti-war' politicians like the Liberal Democrats, church leaders etc, that now that the war has begun they should 'get behind' the troops whose lives are being put at risk.
Nevertheless, two days after war broke out, an anti -war demonstration of between a quarter and half a million took place in New York, and a similar number protested in London - the biggest wartime demonstration in Britain.
Media commentators are speculating on how high the 'pain threshold' is in the US. If casualties mount in a prolonged conflict, the mood could swing rapidly back against war. The 'Vietnam syndrome' has not been completely buried. After the Vietnam war, when 57,000 US troops were killed, US administrations had to be careful to avoid any military engagements that might result in significant US casualties.
If the war goes very badly and mass opposition grows, Bush and Blair could come under increased pressure to negotiate a ceasefire with the Iraqi regime. To do so would fatally damage both political leaders but cannot be completely ruled out if the war turns out to be much more brutal and protracted than originally anticipated.
IT IS vital then that we continue to build the anti-war movement.
The mass protests that have so far taken place have not prevented or stopped the war. But they have affected the conduct of the war. Neither Bush nor Blair can afford to completely ignore public opinion.
The bombing of Baghdad has been an horrific experience for ordinary Iraqis and caused deaths and terrible injuries. But the bombing has not yet been completely indiscriminate. As Major-General Peter Currie bluntly stated in the Daily Mirror (23 March): "We don't want to reduce to rubble a country that we shall have to rebuild. That is not the only reason. In a war so politically highly charged, which has divided the nation straight down the middle, collateral damage could be more than just costly - it could be catastrophic".
In other words, there are political limitations on the use of US military might. However, now that they have met resistance in towns such as Basra, bombing affecting civilians is taking place and this could grow in the battle for Baghdad.
It is wrong to assume that nothing can be done now that the war has begun. However, the anti-war movement has to do more than "shout a bit louder" as a some leaders of the Stop the War Coalition have suggested.
We have to continue and extend the walkouts, protests and civil disobedience. But we also have to campaign now for decisive industrial action against the war. The school students have shown the way by their fantastic strike action on Day X. Workplace action was much more limited but there is much that can be done now to organise for future action.
Left union leaders like Bob Crow of the RMT are opposed to war with Iraq and have pledged to support any workers who take action against it. They now have to be more proactive.
They should immediately organise an anti-war conference of rank -and-file union members, union reps, executive committee members and general secretaries who support the Stop the War Coalition.
Such a conference could discuss taking action against the war, including naming the date for a one-day strike.
This would take the movement onto a new level that could challenge Blair and his support for this brutal imperialist war.