Archive article from The Socialist Issue 343
Turning Point In Iraq
AN ITV news reporter in Iraq described the bizarre scene at a press briefing in Baghdad by the US military forces. The military spokesman told the assembled journalists that coalition forces had regained control of Iraq. At that moment the sounds of nearby explosions reverberated around the room. The reporter announced: "He's clearly lost the plot."
PETER TAAFFE reports on imperialism's Iraq quagmire.
THE WIDESPREAD insurgency in Iraq - described by The Independent as a "multiple insurrection" - is a decisive turning point in the war against US and British occupation. Already confronting an uprising of the Sunni population, the US attack on the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the banning of his newspaper and the assault on his militia, the "army of al-Mehdi", have opened up a new second front of opposition from the majority Shia population.
This means that the US now faces a countrywide Iraqi nationalist uprising against the occupiers. Even the US military command admitted early in the present conflict that two cities and parts of a third were out of control of its forces. Scenes on TV reminiscent of the Vietnam War, with US troops battling with guerrillas, have impacted particularly powerfully in the US itself, which is still affected by the "Vietnam syndrome".
US Democratic senator Joseph Biden has even compared the latest situation to the Tet offensive in 1968, which marked the beginning of the end of the US in Vietnam: "[It's] communicating a similar fear that 'we don't have control there, we don't have a plan,'" he said.
When the socialist warned in advance that a Vietnam-type situation could develop in Iraq as a result of the war, this was dismissed by some as fanciful. Now, Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy has bluntly described Iraq as "George Bush's Vietnam". The President had a "credibility gap" - a phrase used against Johnson and Nixon during the Vietnam war.
Capitalist commentators are panic-stricken by these developments, described as "hellish" (Financial Times) and "blacker by the day" and now "blacker by the hour" (Independent)! Even Jack Straw has admitted that he never expected things to "turn out like this". That admission alone is grounds for his dismissal, as well as that of his boss, Tony Blair. This situation was predictable, and was predicted by the Socialist, and the mass antiwar movement, even before the war had begun.
All of those who lined up behind Bush and Blair, including shamefully most New Labour MPs, are in the dock. One year to the day after the toppling of Saddam Hussein and his statue from its pedestal in Baghdad, Iraq sinks deeper into chaos, its people are mired in even worse conditions than existed under Saddam.
Only 50% of the population has clean water compared to 60% under Saddam. Despite the promise of billions of dollars of investment, there is 50% unemployment and little or no electricity in the major towns.
US military tactics against Falluja and other Iraqi cities are clearly patterned on Ariel Sharon's (the Israeli prime minister) repression of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
This even provoked a split within the stooge Iraqi Governing Council as three of its members were sacked or resigned. At the same time, big sections of the police and "Iraqi Security Forces" either acquiesced or defected to the insurgents, illustrating the narrow social base of the US occupiers which has been drastically further undermined by these events.
Most alarming for the US was the refusal of its newly-trained Iraq army to go to Falluja to kill fellow Iraqis. Such was the Iraqi outrage at the attack on Falluja - with hundreds and possibly thousands killed or injured - that the US was forced to accept a temporary ceasefire.
These present upheavals were deliberately provoked by the US pro-consul Paul Bremer and his generals. The attack on Moqtada al-Sadr and his supporters was probably calculated to crush "extremist" Shia forces as a means of strengthening the pro-Western Ayatollah Sistani, who up to now has enjoyed majority support amongst the Shia population.
Despite verbal opposition to the US plans, Sistani's forces effectively acted as a brake on the growing opposition to the occupation. Consequently, al-Sadr's support - though still in a minority - grew, especially amongst the poor: "They [al-Sadr's supporters] are the poorest of the poor." (the Guardian) The director of the International Crisis Group, referring to al-Sadr's rise, stated: "It's a class thing, not just an ethnic and religious divide."
Hysterically, US commentators have described al-Sadr as the "Iraqi Lenin, with the capacity for creating turmoil with a few armed followers". (The Guardian, 8 April 2004.) This exaggerates al-Sadr's radical, left and revolutionary credentials. He is socially and politically very far from Lenin's socialist and Marxist views. He stands for right-wing political Islam, but the attack on him does indicate US capitalism's fear of radical forces harnessing the colossal national and social discontent which exists in Iraq.
However, by trying to snuff out al-Sadr and the resistance forces around him, thereby strengthening so-called "moderate" Islam, the US has achieved the opposite result as, it seems, the more cautious US, British and military representatives warned. It has strengthened al-Sadr and undermined Sistani. More importantly, it has succeeded in uniting Shias and Sunni in a generalised resistance to the occupation. Sadr has denounced Sistani for his Iranian accent and links with Iran and other Iranian-backed forces in an attempt to appeal to Iraqi Arab national consciousness which has deep roots and a powerful history.
Apache helicopters - again reminiscent of Vietnam - have been used indiscriminately to fire into the poor areas and the mosques of Baghdad and elsewhere. This, together with the "locking down" and bombing of Falluja, has forged the present alliance between the Shia and Sunni people. Crowds in the Shia areas of Baghdad have queued to give blood for Sunni Falluja.
One Iraqi commented to the Independent: "We work for a company specialising in heavy equipment for the oil refining sector and both Shia and Sunni feel the same in our company. We are supporting Falluja. It is not acceptable what the Americans are doing." In Mahmudiyah, a mixed Shia-Sunni Arab town 25 miles south of Baghdad, a banner displayed by the people says: "We are giving our blood from Mahmudiyah to our brothers in Falluja".
The indiscriminate military tactics employed against Falluja - surrounding the town and preparing to pound it remorselessly - also conjures up visions of Vietnam. When the US military used similar methods in the Vietnamese town of Ben Tre in 1968, they declared: "It was necessary to destroy it in order to save it". Such tactics, with hundred of victims in Falluja and elsewhere, will enormously widen the growing opposition to occupation.
Patrick Cockburn, in The Independent, has pointedly remarked: "The siege of Falluja may mark the moment, disastrous for the Allies, when the guerrillas won mass support from the Sunni Arabs and sympathy from the Shias... Even in the Sunni districts of Baghdad... are slogans on walls supporting the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, simply because he is against the US occupation."
With this has come virulent opposition and hatred to all those now identified with the US occupation, symbolised by the horrible videos of Japanese journalists with knives held to their throats and other hostages captured by guerrillas.
This is a tactic which was used by groups, including Shia, in the Lebanon in the past. Anything identified with the US and the governments which support them is a target: a journalist from The Times was threatened with execution because he had a bald head, which for his captors was equivalent to being a US soldier! Only when he showed an old photograph of himself with curly locks was he spared!
While gung-ho US military and political representatives like George Bush and Colin Powell declare that the US must be in for a "long haul" in Iraq, these latest events are forcing serious capitalist representatives to rethink their tactics.
Bush's plans to hand over "power" to Iraqis after projected June elections were largely cosmetic. They had already declared that US soldiers would in effect remain as an "invited presence" of any Iraqi government which emerges from "elections". Powell himself, as well as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has admitted that the bulk of the forces sustaining a "sovereign" Iraqi government will be US forces.
William Pfaff, writing in The Observer, leaves no room for doubt: "The US does not intend to leave Iraq. The coalition headquarters is to become an American embassy with a staff of 3,000 officials, the largest American diplomatic station in the world". The US expects to maintain 100,000 troops permanently in Iraq "to supervise Iraq's provisional government and the new one to be elected".
However, the present turmoil has forced them to reconsider. They are now talking about "internationalising" of Iraq, possibly under the aegis of the United Nations (UN), or even of NATO, as in Afghanistan. This would allow them to present the fiction of a US withdrawal. Such an approach could allow Bush, prior to the November US presidential elections, to boast of "success" and US "withdrawal". In the US, support for the war has drastically declined and this issue, together with the crisis in the US economy, could yet see Bush defeated in the presidential election.
The UN, as the attacks on the UN headquarters last year showed, is not held in universal esteem by all Iraqis. It was through the UN that the vicious "sanctions policy" was implemented, resulting in the death of half a million Iraqi children.
THERE ARE many workers and young people who oppose the war, who oppose the occupation and its consequences but who nevertheless are afraid that if troops are withdrawn, Iraq would fall into even greater chaos and disintegration. Blair is playing on this fear to justify US and British occupation.
On a capitalist basis, there is undoubtedly a risk of disintegration. Sunni and Shia forces have come together now against the common enemy of US and British imperialism. But if that "glue" is removed, and a class solution is not put in its place, then a fratricidal, sectarian, ethnic conflict is a danger, as the examples of Northern Ireland and the Balkans demonstrate.
In both these cases, the working class initially instinctively sought to overcome religious or ethnic divisions, by collaborating and marching together in a search for a working class solution to a looming national conflict. However, hopes were dashed by the capitalist forces on all sides of the ethnic and religious divide, which is inevitable on a capitalist basis, and particularly against the background of a struggle between different groups for stagnant or diminishing resources.
Therefore, only a socialist and class solution can offer a real long-term solution to the Iraqi people. The germs of this have been marvellously displayed in the solidarity between Shias and Sunni in the midst of the bloodletting and carnage in Iraq of the past fortnight.
The democratic and socialist forces, although small, and particularly of the working class, should mobilise for a programme which has the present attempts at unifying the Shias and Sunnis as its starting point. The demand for the withdrawal of all occupying forces must go hand-in-hand with the formation of mixed militias involving Shias, Sunni, Kurds, Turkomen etc. organised on a democratic basis throughout Iraq.
Similarly, democratic committees should be set up, not on a sectarian, religious or ethnic basis, but of workers, peasants and the poor to organise and mobilise mass opposition against the occupiers and to bring about a decisive change in the lives of Iraqi people.
The common enemy is not just the visible presence of US forces in Iraq, but capitalism itself, both American and worldwide, which sustains these forces. Therefore opposition to plans for privatisation and other capitalist measures which are part of the imperialist plan to plunder the resources of Iraq. This and other elements of a democratic and socialist programme offer the only way forward out of the bloody trap which capitalist Iraq is for its people.
End the occupation
A socialist programme for Iraq
THE CLAIMS by Bush and Blair that the war and occupation of Iraq was necessary to disarm Saddam's regime of its weapons of mass destruction have been shown to be fabricated. But hundreds of Iraqis lay dead in Falluja and thousands are injured after the US military began pummelling the city to "pacify" its insurgents.
This outrage, as well as the absence of democracy, the destroyed infrastructure, the mass unemployment and poverty in Iraq, demand an end to the occupation and support for rebuilding the workers' movement in the country. The trade unions and the anti-war campaigns must organise mass protests against the Blair government's support for the US-led occupation.
The Socialist Party calls for the withdrawal of the occupying forces. Iraqi people must be free to determine their own future. Socialists demand real democratic rights in Iraq, including the right to assembly, freedom of speech and to organise unions.
We condemn the stooge Iraqi Governing Council and say trade unions, and socialists internationally should assist the struggle of Iraqis for a workers' and peasants' government, representing the working class, the rural poor and the genuine organisations of women and youth.
Such a government would immediately move to introduce a socialist programme which would stop the privatisation and instead renationalisation industry under democratic workers' control and management.
The country's vast potential oil wealth must be used to finance the reconstruction of its sanctions-hit and war-torn public services - schools, hospitals, housing, public transport etc - through a programme of public works to re-employ the millions of unemployed Iraqis on a decent wages and provide for a liveable pension.
Socialists fight for a democratic, socialist society which would guarantee religious freedom and full rights to minorities, including the right of self-determination for ethnic groups such as the northern Kurds.
However, we oppose right-wing Islamists who although they may be fighting imperialist forces are completely reactionary and would, if they came to power, impose an anti-working class and clerical dictatorship like in Iran.
It was predictable, Mr Straw
ONE YEAR ago the might of the US military swept aside the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
Many commentators in awe of this quick victory and its swift victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan, remarked on the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of US imperialism.
However, the socialist newspaper predicted that the war and the occupation would, by oppressing the Iraqis it claimed to be liberating, generate a widespread opposition in Iraq, the region and internationally.
Even before George Bush declared an end to the war at the beginning of May an editorial in the socialist (12/4/03) said:
"Iraqi people will feel compelled to accept humanitarian aid delivered by a post-war US puppet regime in order to survive but will not be reconciled to such a regime. On the contrary, opposition to troops and politicians who make up an occupying force will be inevitable, as will the armed attacks on them, including suicide attacks at a certain stage."
While foreign secretary Jack Straw moans that the chaos in Iraq was unforeseen, the socialist concluded one year ago:
"The worldwide repercussions of this colonial re-conquest of Iraq will be far reaching. US imperialism will crow that this is their fourth victory in a row but they will reap an unwelcome reward through global mass indignation and increased opposition that will follow. Just as the plight of the Palestinians has fuelled outrage and struggle for over 50 years, so will an occupying force in Iraq create widespread fury. This time, rather than against crimes committed by a US-backed regime, anger will be directed against direct colonial intervention by US imperialism."
'We'll fight them from the beaches'
WHILE TONY Blair soaked up the sun in Bermuda, Iraq's soil soaked up the blood of hundreds killed during the week long uprising against the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Writing in last Sunday's Observer, Blair attacked Western critics of his and George Bush's war as deriving satisfaction from the "difficulty we find".
Apart from minimising the bloodshed, the millions of people who demonstrated against the war and occupation did so, not because we wanted to say afterwards "we told you so", but precisely to stop the bloody outcome of imperialist intervention in Iraq.
To cap it all, Blair writes of the "historic struggle" the West is engaged in and warns of "complacency" over the issues of Iraq's occupation - and this from someone who sees fit to relax in a Caribbean resort sipping a long cool drink!