Archive article from The Socialist Issue 385
IRAQ: Occupation and the resistance
TWO YEARS ago, the US regime promised a short war to 'liberate' Iraq - 'operation shock and awe'. It expected a rapturous welcome by cheering Iraqi crowds. A puppet regime would be installed, US control of Iraq's oil consolidated, and a new platform to pacify the Middle East.
It was a big miscalculation. The Bush administration, apparently believing its own propaganda, overestimated its power. Above all, it underestimated the scale of opposition it would face.
Despite overwhelming military supremacy, the US and Co. have been sucked into a shadowy, urban guerrilla war of attrition: house-by-house fighting, the widespread use of informants, disinformation and death squads. There is no quick and easy exit strategy.
When US shells and missiles destroyed the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah last autumn - taking it with the help of Shia national guard units - the stated aim was to destroy insurgent bases in order to free the city for the recent sham elections. Instead, whole sections of Fallujah have been laid to waste, tens of thousands of people left in squalid camps.
The sectarian divide has widened. Prior to the bombardment by coalition forces, most of the insurgents simply moved to cities such as Mosul, Ramadi and Baghdad. Some still operate in Fallujah itself.
Administration and security personnel are regular targets of the insurgents. One of the lawyers in Saddam Hussein's trial was recently gunned down. Several police chiefs and politicians have been killed, from Basra in the south, through the 'Sunni triangle', to the northern, predominantly Kurdish areas, such as Kirkuk and Mosul.
Others have focused on easier targets connected with the occupation, such as queues outside police recruitment offices, attacks which indiscriminately hit anyone in the vicinity.
Iraqi soldiers have been ambushed and killed. There have been hundreds of kidnappings. The most brutal, reactionary, right-wing groups, such as al-Qa'ida, have beheaded their hostages, transmitting the images on the internet. This repulsive act in no way helps the struggle of the Iraqi people against occupation. It is, in fact, designed to sow fear among the people and attempt to provoke all-out civil war. The attacks on Shia worshippers during the Ashura festival - claiming 100 lives - were clearly sectarian acts.
Attacks on the oil supply are increasingly sophisticated. The New York Times (21 February) reported co-ordinated attacks on three major crude oil pipelines feeding the Doura refinery, on the pipeline taking refined oil to Baghdad and on trucks used as emergency back-up. The finger was pointed squarely at officials in Saddam's regime. In mid-January, a bomb hit the plant that supplies 65-70% of Baghdad's drinking water. Most residents had no running water for a week.
The resistance is spreading. Inmates rioted at Camp Bucca, a 100-acre prison purpose-built by the US, on 31 January. Four were shot dead by guards. The complex was built to hold 6,000 and is nearly full. The prison population is being swelled by people rounded up in counter-insurgency operations. Thousands of Iraqis are interned without trial in Abu Ghraib, police stations or CIA-run jails. New outbreaks of prisoner abuse are inevitable. Anger will deepen.
In spite of Bush and Blair's claim that the subjugation of the Iraqi people is part of a war on terror, the occupation is the most powerful recruitment tool al-Qa'ida could have. Just as Afghanistan in the 1980s was the test-bed and training ground for al-Qa'ida, Iraq is a magnet for a new generation of right-wing political Islamists.
Up to now, Shia clerics have succeeded in maintaining restraint. They realise that Shia interests are better served - at least in the short term - by taking as much post-election constitutional power as possible. Even Moqtada al-Sadr, whose main influence is with poor and young Shia, has kept his Mahdi army quiet. The Shia militias are waiting to be called into action, but patience runs shorter with each sectarian attack or occupation force atrocity.
The inherent danger is that the main ethnic and religious groups will defend themselves behind sectarian walls. In the Rahmaniya district of Baghdad, Shia residents reportedly turned their anger at police inaction to attacks into the organisation of armed self-defence. However, they have threatened reprisals against a local Sunni population if attacks continue.
The peshmerga militias are linked to the main Kurdish parties, PUK and KDP. Their loyalties are clear. There is a plethora of Sunni Arab groups, ranging from former officers in Saddam's Ba'athist regime to far-right Islamist forces, such as al-Qa'ida.
The various insurgents have widely differing agendas. Through sabotage, even small numbers could make occupation unworkable. And it has been reckoned that the insurgents in Iraq could total 200,000 of whom 40,000 are hardened fighters - more than the occupation forces.
The Socialist Party supports the right of Iraqis to armed self-defence against the imperialist occupation. But we argue for mass resistance by the working class and poor of Iraq rather than policies of kidnapping and suicide bombings, conducted by small and unrepresentative groups acting 'on behalf of the Iraqi people'.
Sectarian policies and methods cannot bring lasting peace and prosperity to the peoples of Iraq. Policies based on democratic collective organisation, self-defence and economic planning are necessary to unite the working class and poor.
Campaigns to reconnect utility supplies, for clean drinking water, decent food, accommodation, education and jobs link everyday struggle with the need for workers to exercise economic control. The country's oil wealth should be used to provide people with what they need. It has to be taken out of the grasp of multinational corporations and re-nationalised under workers' control and democracy.
A political party which represents the working class and poor is needed to put forward this programme, forging links with initiatives to set up independent, accountable trade unions, as well as community-based organisations. It would call for united action to rid Iraq of imperialist repression.
It would put forward a socialist programme based on genuine democracy, which takes account of ethnic and religious divisions, and provides for the rights of minorities to live free from persecution. It would put forward the need for a socialist federation of Iraq, with the eventual aim of a Middle East socialist federation.
Iraqi trade unionist speaks to the socialist
HASSAN JUMA'A AWAD - general secretary of the Southern Oil Company Union (SOCU) - recently visited Britain to address the anti-Iraq war movement.
Socialist Party member ZENA AWAD spoke to him about the situation in Iraq and how it is affecting the trade unions and the working class in general.
How quickly is the trade union movement in Iraq developing?
"The General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions used to be Saddam's trade union federation but has now pretty much collapsed. We now have the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) which is linked to the Allawi government and the Communist Party, and the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) which was set up by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. [SCIRI - One of the two main Shia parties in Iraq]
The SOCU is not affiliated to either but is an independent trade union with 23,000 members which organises in the southern Iraq in ten oil companies.
SOCU was established one month after Iraq was invaded. Our members saw the occupying troops guarding the oil refineries while the rest of Iraq was being looted. The interests of the occupiers then became clear to all our members. As a result many more trade unions were formed, including the mechanical workers' and the care workers' unions.
What are the main issues that the unions are campaigning on?
"Our aim in SOCU is to organise oil workers who have an important role to play in the resistance against the occupation and to put forward workers' interests to the employers.
All the refineries in the south are still state owned and we are trying to build links with other oil workers elsewhere in Iraq to unite the fight against privatisation of the oil industry.
The occupation of Iraq is seen by most Iraqis as illegal. This occupation is not about freeing the Iraqis but about oil and the looting of Iraq's natural resources. After the military occupation comes economic occupation!
Nationalisation of the Iraqi oil industry [in 1958] was a blow to colonisation and US imperialism at the time. Now, instead of economic sanctions [imposed on Saddam Hussein's regime following the 1991 Gulf War], we see an economic occupation that will push through privatisation.
We are seeing Iraqis from Saddam's old regime who left Iraq with millions of dollars returning to buy industries. These are the people with capital - the Iraqi capitalists. What is important is to oppose all privatisation by the capitalists."
Does the trade union movement cut across religious, ethnic and sectarian divisions; are they open to all workers?
"The first time Iraqis heard of ethnic divisions was when Iraq got invaded. We do not deal according to religion or ethnicity. I am 53-years old and never heard of these divisions before. If the US did not whip up divisions, they could not divide and rule. Iraqis have a long united tradition and a strong national aspiration.
Our trade union is open to all workers. But if you have religious or political links you need to keep those outside the union. Trade unions need to remain independent and united in order to end oppression of workers, the occupation of Iraq and privatisation of our natural resources.
In Britain some have been critical of the leadership of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). How representative of its membership and of Iraqi workers are these leaders?
"We know how this federation [IFTU] was initially set up and how its leaders got elected. Its leadership has been selected from the top down and this 'federation' is linked to the stooge government.
They do not organise workers on the ground but have unions which are symbolic at this stage - most workers in Iraq are out of work so it's difficult to claim an active membership. We do not link up with them as they do not represent any oil workers. They do not oppose the occupation but are linked to their stooge regime."
Your union, the SOCU, doesn't have any links to any political party. But do you think that Iraqis need a workers' party based on genuine independent trade unions?
"No. SOCU doesn't have any links to any political party due to the reasons mentioned earlier. I personally don't agree with our union being allied with any political party as this is an outside matter for the union.
I am a democratically elected trade union representative and my job is to consult my members and unite the force behind whatever is agreed in our workplaces.
What is important is to allow people to practise their political agenda outside the union but to unite workers in the union under one banner: fighting privatisation and the occupation."
What are your impressions of the British trade union movement and what would you think of establishing direct trade union links at all levels?
"It is important to make links at all levels in order for our members not to be isolated in our struggle against privatisation of the oil refineries in Southern Iraq. We are not just up against the employers but against US imperialism and its forces. We have been alarmed by the scale of US aggression used against our workers.
Next on the agenda, after war, occupation and the creation of a puppet government, is privatisation and our struggle to defeat it. So we would like to make strong links with the workers' movement internationally and in Britain, a country which has shown great opposition to the occupation and looting of Iraq."