Archive article from The Socialist Issue 378
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 to).
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.
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 population.
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.
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 people.
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 character.
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 assassination.
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.
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 type.
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.