The deadly and terrible attacks on Shia worshippers, on Tuesday this week, have brought home to the world the extreme crisis in Iraq.

A series of mortars and co-ordinated bomb attacks cut down Shias celebrating the Ashoura ceremony in Karbala. In Baghdad, people praying at the main Shia shrine, were also targeted. Attacks were also reported on Shia processions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The carnage could not have been greater. The suicide bombers and attackers aimed at killing and maiming as many as possible. They set off their explosive devises in streets packed with dense crowds. The head of the United States appointed Governing Council put the combined death toll from Karbala and Baghdad at 271.

It is impossible to be certain about who the perpetrators where behind these atrocities. Everyone seems to agree however about the aim of the attacks. The headlines in the Western newspapers are unanimous that the massacres could set off Shia revenge attacks and that the whole country could spiral towards civil war. In the weeks leading up to these attacks the spectre of a civil war in Iraq was raised many times and not only by the media. The imperialist occupation forces produced a letter said to have been written by an al-Qaeda operative detailing how to drag the Shia into a sectarian war on the Lebanese ‘model’. However, as with other clues to who is behind the rising tide of attacks on Iraqi civilians - last month 105 Iraqis of mainly Kurdish origin died after a bomb attack in Tarbil - the Americans fail to provide any definite proof to corroborate their claims. On 3 March, a US army general admitted that earlier claims that one of the suicide bombers had been arrested before detonating his belt of explosives were untrue.

Role of imperialism

In an article in the British daily paper, ‘The Independent’, (3 March 2004) journalist Robert Fisk asked if it is a mere coincidence that American fuelled talk about civil war preceded the attacks of Tuesday.

"I don’t believe the Americans were behind yesterday’s carnage…but I do worry about the Iraqi exile groups [groups like Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress] who think that their own actions might produce what the Americans want: a fear of civil war so intense that Iraqis will go along with any plans the United States produces for Mesopotamia".

Robert Fisk goes on to draw comparisons with the attempts of the French OAS, in Algeria in 1962, to set Algerian Muslims against Algerian Muslims by exploding bombs amongst France’s Muslim Algerian community. Fisk also compares the carnage in Iraq with the 1974 ‘loyalist’ bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, which have been linked to elements of the British state.

The bloody history of American and British imperialism teaches us not to disregard these possibilities. However would imperialism use these kinds of methods at this point in time? Instead of being the bloodiest day since the fall of Saddam Hussein, last Tuesday was meant to have been the greatest day for American PR since the widely televised toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad’s city centre. The stage was set for the signing of an ‘Interim Constitution’ by Iraq’s US-appointed ‘Governing Council’. This was meant to mark the first real political progress made by the Coalition under the rule of Paul Bremer – the result of a long process of intensive bickering between the different groupings and representatives on the unelected Governing Council. It might be said that a delay of three days in signing the Interim Constitution is no big setback. The point is, however, that after the bombings attention will be back on the problems created by the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. As this situation continues, the little authority those Iraqi organisations, parties and individuals working together with the occupying authority have, will evaporate.

Mourners on 3 March almost unanimously laid the blame for the bombings on the US and their failure to provide security. Nevertheless, the representatives of US and British imperialism will use these attacks to justify their presence in Iraq and to attempt to intimidate and divide the anti-war movement. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British representative within the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, announced the day after the bombings that British troops will stay in Iraq for more than two years.

Sectarianism or socialism

The occupation of Iraq by imperialism has created the conditions for more sectarian violence. The imperialist puppet-masters will try to control the country’s vast oil reserves and economic assets while playing on the ethnic and religious divisions in the country. Imperialism will try to juggle between Shia’s, Sunni’s and Kurds, without giving the Iraqi people real democratic rights and control over their own affairs. The drawing up of the Interim Constitution shows the huge problems ahead. No single group will be truly satisfied with what is on offer while the interim Constitution institutionalises the sectarian divide.

"No, no America! No, no terrorism!"

Immediately after the attacks in Baghdad the rage of the Shia population turned against the US occupiers. Crowds started stoning army tanks. In a disastrous response, US soldiers responded with live fire and, according to unconfirmed reports, killing three bystanders.

These events do not necessarily have to take Iraq down the abyss of sectarian strife or civil war. In the present circumstances, however, they do strengthen the position of the religious and tribal leaders. The most important step to prevent an all-out civil war is for Iraqi workers to build an independent workers’ movement, and workers organisations that have support amongst the urban and rural poor. The first aim of such class movement has to be to fight against the imperialist occupation of Iraq and for democratic rights for all (including for women, all nationalities and religions), and for the creation of a workers’ and poor peasants’ Iraq. A workers’ movement, armed with a programme to expel imperialism and to start the socialist transformation of Iraq, will be able to cut across the ethnic and religious tensions.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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