Iraq – one year on.
Millions of people will protest worldwide against the imperialist occupation of Iraq on 20 March. They want to see an end to bloodshed in the country and for the Iraqi people to decide their own affairs. However, many working people are also worried that an end to occupation will lead to a bloody conflict and the break-up of Iraq. Niall Mulholland considers this and other key questions. Also, Iraq’s workers get organised by Mariam Kamish.
Ending the US-led occupation.
Q: Would an end to occupation lead to civil war?
This is the scenario put forward by the occupation forces and their local puppets in the ’Governing Council’. It is used to justify the imperialist presence in Iraq and to argue that the US led forces cannot leave until a new regime to their liking is imposed.
Iraq suffers from sectarian tensions between the Shia and Sunni Muslims. Horrific bombings, like the recent attacks on Shia worshippers in Karbala and Baghdad, have led to hundreds of deaths. There are also national and ethnic differences in Iraq, including the Kurds in the north.
Despite the racist language of Western politicians and the media, however, these differences are not the result of some inherited bigotry amongst Iraqis. The ethnic and sectarian tensions that exist are, at root, due to the role of imperialism in the region.
Yet, time and again, Iraqi working people have shown they will unite across religious and national lines and struggle for a better life. Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, recently commented: "There never has been a civil war in Iraq. I have never heard a single word of animosity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq," (The Independent, 3 March 2004).
Iraq was an artificial creation, carved out by British imperialism in 1920, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In order to rule, the British fostered sectarian and national divisions, using their old policy of ’divide and rule’. Imperialism leaned on the minority Sunni Muslim population to govern.
But the Iraqi masses were far from passive. A mass uprising against imperialist rule took place in 1923 in Southern Iraq and the Kurds in the north fought for self-determination.
The Iraqi Communist Party’s (ICP) anti-imperialist and pan-Arab message was popular across ethnic, religious and tribal boundaries. By the late 1950s, the ICP could have led a successful socialist revolution. Tragically, due to the ICP leadership’s wrong policies, the chance was lost and a Ba’ath Party coup in 1963 lead to the murder of many communists.
Ba’athist leader Saddam Hussein mainly based his rule on the Sunnis and he banned Shia religious festivals. But at different times Saddam also leaned on different religious and ethnic sections of the population, playing one off against another.
United workers’ struggles
MASS UNEMPLOYMENT, poverty and a lack of basic utilities for many people will mean the conditions continue to exist for demagogues to play on sectarian, national and ethnic differences. In the post-Saddam Hussein era, a wide range of religious, ethnic and nationalist groups are making claims to national and local political power. These local right-wing forces use religious and national differences for their own class interests.
But a descent into civil war is not inevitable. There is a rich tradition of united workers’ struggles that cuts across religious and national differences. With its own independent class organisations and a socialist programme, the Iraqi working class can unite all religious and national minorities and oppressed groups against imperialism and capitalism.
Socialists call for the immediate end to the occupation and for the removal of imperialism from Iraq and the Middle East. However, as with Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, we also called for the organised working class to provide a solution, to prevent reactionaries turning the political vacuum in society into a civil war.
Socialists also support the right of self-determination for the Kurdish people. It is wrong to believe that the US, United Nations (UN) or any capitalist constitution or government will liberate Kurds. Under capitalism, the Kurdish areas are condemned to economic and social stagnation. The Kurds are oppressed by several states. In Iraq, Kurds live under the burden of the PUK and KDP, who represent a pro-capitalist and reactionary elite.
Imperialism will not allow the creation of a genuine, independent Kurdish state, fearing it would act as a pole of attraction to all the Kurds of the region and other oppressed minorities. To achieve self-determination requires the socialist transformation of society, so ending poverty, tribal divisions, and sectarianism.
Socialists support efforts to build independent working class organisations in Iraq and applaud recent movements of the unemployed and for women’s rights. We also support the right to self-defence against US imperialist forces, thugs and reactionaries. All arms should be under the control of elected committees of workers in the districts, factories and workplaces.
Along with a socialist programme, which includes democratic workers’ control and management of industry and the economy, such an alternative to the bigots and reactionaries would get a huge response from working people.
Q: Does the new Iraqi Constitution represent the best ’democratic model’ in the Middle East’?
THE IRAQI Governing Council was appointed by the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in July 2003. Those holding council seats are reactionary, right wing politicians. One of of them, Ahmed Chalabi, a close ally of the US, is a convicted fraudster.
The council oversaw the creation of a new Iraqi interim constitution, which is due to take effect from July, this year. US officials and the media say the constitution is the "most democratic in the Middle East". National elections are set to follow on 31 December 2005.
Leaving aside the fact that most Iraqis are more interested in getting electricity and clean water than constitutions, the interim constitution is a "major fudge" between the interests of the different communities and nationalities. It is not clear if separate groups will have a veto over new government decisions.
The constitution states that federalism will not be based on ethnicity but it also says that Kurdish self-government will continue. The Sunni Muslims felt largely ignored during negotiations, leading to fears of a "Sunni backlash".
Many Kurds believe the new interim constitution represents democracy, a federal state and the first step towards independence. But the Kurdish people have often been betrayed by local and imperialist powers.
The constitution does not rule on majority Kurdish cities like Kirkuk, and surrounding areas, which have vast oil reserves. Given this, the reactionary leaders of the Kurdish parties, the PUK and KDP, which collaborate with imperialism, are trying to dampen down aspirations for independence.
Under the interim constitution, Islam will be the official state religion and a "source" of legislation. This will be used by the right-wing Islamists as a way of trying to introduce their strict Islamic codes. This makes a mockery of the "equal rights for all" enshrined in the constitution. Women and young people, especially, will find their rights and liberty under attack.
Without real economic development and a transformation of people’s living standards, capitalist rule in Iraq will always be unstable. The ruling class and imperialists will use whatever means they decide are necessary to rule. This can mean, at times, introducing a veneer of ’democracy’, while real power lies with the armed forces.
The interim constitution, in theory, guarantees freedom of speech and assembly, but the occupation forces have shown they will put down protests, including attempts to organise unions, using brute repression. (see opposite)
Socialists demand real democratic rights in Iraq, including the right to assembly, freedom of speech and to organise unions. We say no to the stooge Governing Council. Working people in Iraq should decide their own future. We call for the immediate convening of a democratically elected constituent assembly, representing the working class, the rural poor and the genuine organisations of the women and youth. A majority workers’ and peasants’ constituent assembly would immediately move to introduce a socialist programme.
Q: Would life get better for Iraqis if the Democrats win the US presidential race?
MANY WORKERS in the West hope that if the US Democrats win the 2004 presidency the situation in Iraq will improve radically. Of course, there are differences between the Republicans and Democrats, on domestic and foreign policy. Essentially, however, both parties represent the interests of US big business and imperialism.
The majority of Democrats, including Kerry, supported the Iraq war and, before that, the war against Afghanistan. (see page 4) A John Kerry administration in the White House would act to defend the interests of imperialism in the Middle East and Iraq.
Kerry has only attacked Bush’s war because he knows it is hugely unpopular with many US voters. However, the Democrats are no strangers to imperialist adventures. The Clinton Presidency created many of the conditions for today’s world of terror and wars. Clinton was a fervent advocate of globalisation and neo-liberalism; policies that increased the exploitation and suffering of the people of the Middle East and neo-colonial world.
He also was a close ally of the Israeli regime and of many reactionary Arab regimes. These policies cause huge anger and resentment across the world, and helped to feed right wing political Islam.
Therefore the conditions facing Iraqis will not be in any way fundamentally better if the Democrats win the Presidential elections.
Neither would the UN play a progressive role in Iraq. The UN is an organisation that is dominated by the big nation states, whose governments, in turn, are dominated by their national ruling class. For over a decade, the UN was responsible for sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of an estimated one million people. The UN runs countries like Bosnia and Afghanistan in an autocratic manner, implementing capitalist policies.
Q: Who can end imperialist occupation and really liberate the Iraqi people?
THE ARMED resistance to imperialist occupation comes from a variety of sources, including ex-Ba’athists and Sunnis. Reportedly, increasing numbers of Shias are getting involved, as their situation fails to get any better.
The West accuse Sunni and al-Qa’ida forces for mounting indiscriminate attacks to foster sectarian and national divisions and to provoke civil war.
Socialists condemn attacks on innocent Iraqis. Right-wing Islamists may be fighting imperialist forces but they are completely reactionary. They would impose an anti-working class and clerical dictatorship if they came to power. But it is also possible that supporters of the Iraqi puppet regime are behind some of the bombing outrages.
The spectre of all-out sectarian war is used by the occupation forces to try to justify their presence. Imperialism has a bloody and long history of using atrocities to divide and rule, from Algeria to Ireland.
Whoever is behind the indiscriminate bombings, their clear aim is to cut across Iraqi’s history of strong national identity and united class struggle. The main political parties in Iraq have the same aims. They represent religious and national groupings and also foment division.
There is no mass socialist alternative. The Iraqi Communist Party, repeating its past mistakes, is part of the US puppet regime.
Only the working class and poor can show a way out. Many Iraqi women felt that with the arrival of US troops, they would gain more rights. But women have had to fight for their own interests, against the occupation and the fundamentalists, as have the unemployed and trade unionists.
The fight for democratic rights is a fight against US imperialism and its pro-capitalist puppets inside Iraq. Imperialism will use repression against all opposition to its rule and especially against the potentially powerful working class. Advances by the working class will threaten imperialist profits and prestige, and the continued existence of the neighbouring Arab dictatorships.
Therefore the fight for democratic rights is fundamentally an anti-capitalist fight. To safeguard and to extend democratic rights in Iraq means a battle for an alternative system - socialism.
One year of war and occupation
THE US-led war against Iraq slaughtered 10,000 Iraqi civilians. Over 11,000 Iraqis are held as prisoners.
The social and economic situation is much worse than a year ago. The Iraqi state industry is being sold off to the rich friends and backers of the Bush administration. Unemployment stands at 50%. Schools, hospitals and basic utilities are in disarray.
Over 600 ’coalition’ troops - ’economic conscripts’ in the main - have been killed since Bush declared the "end of major hostilities". No Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) have been found or links between the ex-Saddam regime and ’terrorism’. In fact, the occupation has caused such resentment that it has brought al-Qa’ida to Iraq. Indiscriminate bombings have killed many civilians.
Iraq’s workers get organised
IN IRAQ, Ba’ath Party law and Ba’ath Party institutions supposedly are being rooted out and democracy brought in. But one of Paul Bremer’s first actions, as head of the occupation, was to ratify Saddam Hussein’s 1987 law banning strikes in the public sector.
Three months into the occupation, Bremer announced a new wage table, with wage cuts for everyone - except the tops of the administration. The bottom rung of the wage table was set at less than half the sweatshop wages in the free trade zones in Iran and Jordan - and that was in the context of runaway inflation in Iraq.
Not surprisingly, trade unions started springing up and strike action wasn’t far behind.
The US Bechtel Corporation, (which got its fingers burned when it tried to privatise the Bolivian water industry a few years ago) was handed the Iraqi Railways among other enterprises. In response, 600 railworkers in the Baghdad Railway Works held a mass meeting, elected representatives and sent them to stop management dealing with the ’yellow’ (scab) union and to get recognition for the new, genuine union.
US troops pointed their guns at the delegation but the railworkers stood firm, gaining recognition.
These were workers who’d stayed behind in the sheds with their trains during the bombings - to put out fires and protect their industry. No-one was going to bully them in their own workplace.
Workers in the oil refineries also know their own power. In late January 2004, Southern Oil Company workers won a battle over wages and conditions that had been going on for three months.
First, they won in negotiations with their own management. And only then did they take on Bremer and the occupation. Their fear was that the British Army would be brought in to operate the oil pumps. The union announced that if that happened, oil workers would join the armed resistance. The occupation authority caved in, pretty quickly!
The electricity sector workers in Basra had supported the oil sector workers. In late January, they went on strike themselves. At one power station, they stormed the administration building and seized their brutal boss.
He’d been paying slave wages and paying women less than men. He’d refused to recognise the union and he’d closed the crÃ¨che. He’d discontinued health and safety equipment and he’d cut the old annual bonus.
At all the power stations, management said they were only carrying out occupation authority policy. The workers told them that they’d either accept the union’s wage rates - plus equal pay for women, maternity pay and crÃ¨ches at all workplaces - or they’d turn off the lights all over Iraq!
Unsurprisingly, the Energy Minister agreed terms. The effect of these victories on the confidence of working class people and their willingness to struggle has been electric.
So, it’s not surprising that the US authorities see the trade unions and trade unionists as a threat to their plans to privatise and super-exploit a new ’Iraq plc’.
The offices of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions have been raided and ransacked by the US army. So have the offices of the Workers’ Communist Party and the Union of Unemployed.
Through his "Public Notice Number One", Bremer has given the occupation authority broad powers to detain anyone inciting civil disorder as prisoners of war. And this covers leaflets and speeches promoting strike action. But, he hasn’t dared to use those powers. The working class is too powerful.
These are critical times in the Iraqi labour and trade union movement. The Iraqi working class is moving into action - and they need strong support from the organised working class internationally.
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales