"This is far graver than Vietnam. If we leave and there’s no civil war, that’s a victory." William Odon, former head of the US national security agency, is more in touch with the reality of Iraq than George Bush and Tony Blair.

Blair is seeking to’re-label’ the war in order to sell the idea of further involvement of British troops and resources in Iraq. The ’first conflict’ to remove Saddam Hussein is now won, he said, but a ’new conflict’ against ’global terrorism’ is now unfolding in Iraq, the new crucible of international terrorism.

Yet terrorism did not really exist there before the invasion. Moreover, what we see in Iraq is not simply terrorism but a nationalist resistance against occupying forces. Blair has, in effect, declared a new war without any debate in parliament or in the cabinet.

His absurd claims were made at the end of one of the bloodiest weeks in Iraq. Three hundred were killed last week, including three Kurdish and a US hostage barbarically beheaded on television. Over 10,000 civilians and more than 1,000 occupation troops have died, so far.

Blair’s promise of a new period of carnage and mayhem is against the background of an almost universal condemnation of the ’first conflict’ - and scorn for him and those who supported the war. A YouGov poll last weekend showed that support for the war is at its lowest, with just 38% now believing it was justified, while 52% think it was wrong. This compares to 66% who supported the war and 29% who opposed it when US and British forces invaded in April 2003. According to a Guardian/ICM poll, 71% want to see the troops withdrawn.

Opposition has grown as each revelation shatters the false prospectus on which the war was fought. Leaked reports show that Blair was warned by foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and British diplomats of the catastrophic consequences of the aftermath of any invasion to topple Saddam.

Even a ’hero’ of the conflict, British officer, Tim Collins, whose picture is said to hang in the Oval office of the US president, declared that the war was either an example of "gross incompetence" or was "simply a cynical war". Straw, without a trace of irony, has highlighted one achievement: the setting up of football leagues in Iraq!

No part of Iraq is ’safe’ for British, US or other occupying troops. Even in the heavily patrolled ’green zone’, coalition forces have been advised to walk around in pairs.

Kofi Annan, UN general secretary, bluntly stated that the original invasion was ’illegal’. Elections, if they go ahead in January, would not be considered ’legitimate’. The US and Britain have quite clearly decided to pursue a policy of ’Vietnamisation’, handing political power to stooges while attempting to construct a viable Iraqi state machine.

If elections go ahead in January, they will be like those being undertaken in Afghanistan, where whole swathes of the country will not participate. Fallujah, Ramadi, Sadr City in Baghdad, and many other areas, are controlled by the Iraqi opposition.

It now seems that the US will attempt to complete what it failed to do in April: the military occupation of Fallujah to ’root out’ Sunni ’terrorists’. It is no more likely to succeed, even if the US manages to occupy the city - with hundreds and possibly thousands of victims the result. A guerrilla-type resistance will follow from this which, if it is joined by Shias in Sadr City, for instance, will completely tie down the 140,000 US troops presently in Iraq.

Capitalist commentators call for withdrawal

Rather than supporting a ’new conflict’, with unforeseen consequences, some capitalist commentators, in the ’Financial Times’ for instance, have urged Bush and Blair to rapidly withdraw their forces from Iraq. The Socialist [paper of the Socialist Party, England and Wales] supports the withdrawal of the troops. But, as we have pointed out many times and, as the lessons of Vietnam underlined, it is easy for imperialism to go in but much more difficult to get out of a ’quagmire’.

On a capitalist basis, one consequence of a rapid withdrawal could be a bloody ethnic or religious conflict which will put into the shade the horrors which Iraq has witnessed since the US invasion. The elites of Iraq, whether Shia, Sunni, Kurdish, Turkomen, etc, will seek to enhance their own position, setting one ethnic or religious group against another in order to secure power, income and prestige.

The beheading of the Kurdish hostages is just a small indication of the horrors which could be visited on the people of Iraq on the basis of the maintenance of landlordism and capitalism, and the ethnic and religious divisions that go with it.

This is why a democratic and equitable solution to the problems of the country is only possible with the working class in the lead, uniting all groupings on the basis of a socialist and democratic programme.

  • Not a penny or a bullet for this failed war
  • Withdraw British, US and all occupying troops
  • For multi-ethnic armed militias to defend the working class against the occupying forces and sectarian attack
  • For a democratic and socialist solution to the problems of Iraq

Editorial from The Socialist, newspaper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

Committee for a workers' International publications

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