Earlier this week, the US-led forces in Iraq handed over ’sovereignty’ to a new ’Iraqi government’, days ahead of schedule. Despite claims to the contrary, from the White House and Downing Street, this hurried exercise only reveals the lack of a social base of support for the new regime and its imperialist backers. The following article, written before the ’handover’, looks at the real situation facing Iraqi workers and poor, now that Iraqis supposedly ’govern’ the country. socialistworld.net.
Early ’handover’ reveals White House crisis
THE UN Security Council has anointed this move to ’sovereignty’, but it is not in any way either democratic or an end to the occupation. Bush and Blair steadfastly refused to allow elections to be held before this handover, clearly hoping that their handpicked ’interim government’ will be able to influence the elections when they are finally held. Next month’s so-called national conference, an unelected body of 1,000, is no substitute for an elected assembly.
Back in April 2004, US Secretary of State Colin Powell made crystal clear in advance the limits that US imperialism would put on this new ’government’, which they effectively appointed.
Powell explained that he hoped that Iraqis "will understand that in order for this government to get up and running - to be effective - some of its sovereignty will have to be given back, if I can put it that way, or limited by them. ...It’s sovereignty but [some] of that sovereignty they are going to allow us to exercise on their behalf and with their permission."
However despite US imperialism’s control over this new "government" they, and their allies, are losing control of Iraq as opposition to the occupation and foreign troops mounts.
This unpopularity also led to the increasing brutality of the occupation. General Tommy Franks, the Commander of US Central Command at the time of the invasion, bluntly expressed the lack of concern for any Iraqi casualties when he stated, "we don’t do body counts". In appreciation of his role, Franks was recently given an honorary knighthood by the Queen.
The photos from Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison confirmed the way in which detainees were treated, while the Red Cross has reported coalition officers saying between 70%-90% of those detained were "arrested by mistake".
These repressive methods backfired, increasing further the bitterness towards the occupiers and also the viciousness of the fighting.
Now Bush and Blair’s propagandists will speak about ’handing over power to the Iraqi people’, but if this was really the case Iraqis would demand the immediate end of the occupation. There can be no doubt that the majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation, even among Kurds who generally were more supportive, there is now growing suspicion towards the US’s plans. One opinion poll after another in Iraq has shown this growing hostility (see box).
This is the background to the US’s accelerated timetable of ’Iraqi-isation’, the policy of putting Iraqis in the front line as the occupiers try to step out of the limelight. Recent months have seen the US military forced into a series of tactical retreats, fearing that their operations would provoke a generalised national uprising.
The ’collective punishment’ strategy in Falluja failed and the US was forced to effectively reconstitute part of the old Iraqi army to nominally police the area, while more recently they have dropped the call for the immediate capture of Muqtada Sadr "dead or alive". How effective the ’Iraqi-isation’ policy will be is another question. The US military’s delay in supporting the new ’Iraqi army’ with heavy equipment is a sign of their lack of confidence in these forces, many of whom have only joined for financial reasons.
Behind these policy reversals is both the rising opposition to the occupying forces’ presence and Bush’s fear that the unravelling of his Iraq adventure will cost him the November US Presidential elections.
HOWEVER, DESPITE the widespread and growing opposition to the foreign occupation forces, there is no unified movement for Iraqi national liberation. Given the current absence of a working class movement it is often religious and ethnic forces that are setting the pace. This is one reason behind the lack of mass mobilisations against the occupation and for democratic and social rights, and the use of suicide attacks.
The groundswell of opposition was very partially reflected in a struggle over posts in the new "interim government". In an attempt to gain some credibility, members of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) forced the US to back down over its initial choice of president.
But the US then forced through its nomination for new prime minister of the "interim government" that replaced the IGC. The UN negotiator, Brahimi, wanted Hussain Shahristani, who is close to Ayatollah Sistani, to be prime minister. But he was forced to back down, later complaining that the US administrator Paul Bremer "is the dictator of Iraq".
The US’s choice for prime minister, Ayad Allawi, (who has close links with MI6), is head of the CIA funded Iraqi National Accord, the group which provided the infamous "45 minute" claim for Blair’s pro-war propaganda campaign. Like most capitalist politicians Allawi is totally hypocritical. While supporting the surprise US air strike against an alleged ’terrorist safe house’ in Falluja, Allawi condemns car bombings as "cowardly". But this is the same man who, as the New York Times has just reported, organised, with CIA support, a terrorist bombing campaign inside Iraq in the early 1990s.
Almost immediately the new ’interim government’ has started saying that it may impose martial law in response to the continuing attacks on the administration, the new Iraqi forces and the coalition troops. Quite what difference this would make to the present situation - where the coalition troops shoot at will and detain suspects indefinitely without charge - is not clear. However, martial law would be a good excuse to limit campaigning for the elections scheduled for January 2005 or even to try to extend the interim government’s rule by postponing the elections.
IN REALITY this ’interim government’ has been designed as a screen behind which the US will still run the country. Recently the Wall Street Journal revealed how the CPA has formed a series of ’commissions’ and agencies that have effectively taken over the power previously held in Iraqi ministries, thus leaving the new ’government’ with little real say.
While the CPA itself will cease to exist at the end of June its role will be taken over by the new US Embassy, the largest in the world, based in one of Saddam’s palaces, with around 1,600 staff!
The current US pro-consul, Paul Bremer, will be replaced by the new US Ambassador, John Negroponte. In the 1980s Negroponte was the US ambassador in Honduras, being involved in supporting the Contra terrorist campaign against the radical Sandinistas who were then ruling neighbouring Nicaragua. Therefore, like most of the Bush government, his denunciations of terrorism cannot be taken at face value.
The US hopes that the new ’interim government’ will serve as a buffer that will deflect opposition to its colonial grip. But this is unlikely. However, while the growing opposition to the US presence in Iraq continues to grow, there is no unifying focus for the resistance. This has meant that it has been a combination of ethnic, religious and tribal groupings that have come to the fore and this has given the occupiers the opportunity to manoeuvre between the different groups.
FOR SOME time the occupiers have been trying to work with the most popular Iraqi figure, Ayatollah Sistani, the main religious leader of the majority Shias. While in the past Sistani sanctioned limited protests calling for elections, these have often been in an attempt to defend his base from other, more radical religious leaders like Muqtada Sadr. Now, while saying that the new interim government does not have the "legitimacy of elections", Sistani is backing it so long as it holds elections planned for January 2005.
Similarly, other Shia groupings like Sciri and Daawa also try to make just enough criticisms of the new interim government to seem to be independent from it without leading any substantial challenges.
Increasingly the occupiers are relying on deals with different groups, in effect trying to play off one grouping against another. An example is in the northern Kurdish area where for some time the Kurdish leaders have been the most consistent supporters of the occupation. These leaders have received some rewards for this, for example the promise that the two main Kurdish militias will form part of the internal security forces of the Kurdistan regional government.
But the US does not want to accept Kurdish demands for autonomy or for control over the northern Iraqi oilfield around Kirkuk. The US government does not want to alienate the Turkish government which opposes Kurdish autonomy and at the same time wants to strike a deal with the leaders of the Iraqi Shia majority. So the US made a gesture towards Sistani by ensuring that the latest UN resolution on Iraq did not mention the Transitional Administration Law that granted Kurds some rights, on paper, to a federal Iraq.
The combination of the lack of a national movement against occupation and the occupying powers’ increasing reliance on local deals is creating a trend towards a de facto break-up of Iraq under local forces and militia. This in turn can provoke further ethnic, tribal, and religious tensions as rival elites struggle for power and economic resources.
This formal handover of sovereignty to a form of Iraqi government and the promise of elections within seven months is likely to increase popular demands for genuine independence from foreign control, the immediate withdrawal of the occupation armies and democratic rule. But unless the workers’ movement is rebuilt there will be the dangers that ethnic and religious tensions could cut across the development of a mass, popular struggle for a complete break with imperialism and the creation of a workers’ and poor peasants’ Iraq.
Only if this socialist transformation is begun can the country’s huge resources begin to be used in the interests of the people, something that would be an example for all the peoples of the Middle East.
Special feature from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi England and Wales