The Socialist 19 March 2005 |
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IRAQ: Occupation and the resistance
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
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
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
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
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.