"IT IS a mess in Iraq". The UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, was certainly to the point. Elections, he said, would not be possible on the 30 January "if the circumstances stay as they are".

Last month, the city of Fallujah was destroyed by US bombs and gunfire. This brutal killing and destruction was ’justified’, we were told. It would send a message to the "terrorists" throughout Iraq that resistance to the occupation was futile. The violence would be quelled, paving the way for peaceful elections.

Once again, US imperialism’s plans, like the buildings in Fallujah, have been reduced to rubble. The resistance shows no signs of abating. In particular, attacks on Iraqi security forces, who are seen as collaborating with the occupying forces, are increasing daily.

The people of Fallujah have paid a terrible price for this failed strategy. More than 200,000 were forced to flee their homes. Most are still refugees, many living without proper shelter, food or fuel in plunging temperatures.

Having been told that they would be back in their homes within days, US officials are now saying that it could take months. Many have no homes to go back to. It could take up to six months to restore power lines and months to repair water and sewage pipes which were all damaged in the assault on the city.

Fighting is still continuing in the south of Fallujah and the Red Crescent has said that it will pull out because the situation is too dangerous.

Free and fair elections are a sick joke under these conditions. General John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, has been forced to admit that Iraqi security forces have not had adequate training and cannot cope. And yet they are supposed to guard polling stations during the election!

Civil war

IN A move reminiscent of ’mission creep’ during the Vietnam war, US forces are to be increased by 12,000 to try and contain the situation. This will take US troop numbers back up to their peak of 150,000. And, as in Vietnam, they could be embroiled for many years to come.

Assuming that elections go ahead, they are unlikely to stop the resistance. In fact, they could have the opposite effect of ratcheting up the violence and increasing sectarian tensions and attacks.

It is an exaggeration to say, as some commentators have, that there is already ’civil war’ in Iraq. Civil war, sectarian violence and the break up of the country are all inherent in the situation in Iraq. But they are not inevitable.

Most of the attacks so far have been against occupying troops and Iraqi security forces. But recently there have been signs of increased sectarian violence.

A suicide bomb at a Shia mosque in Baghdad killed 27 people and there have been reports of Shias forming their own militias and threatening to retaliate against Sunnis.

The use of Shia and Kurdish forces to quell the resistance in Sunni areas has also worsened sectarian divisions.

If a Shia dominated government is elected as a result of elections which exclude large sections of the Sunni population - whether because of boycotts or because the situation is too dangerous - it will be seen as completely illegitimate in the eyes of most Sunnis and massively risk inflaming religious and ethnic violence.

However, sectarian divisions could be cut across by workers and farmers building and strengthening their own organisations, including mixed militias as a means of defence and for resisting imperialist occupation.

By fighting on a programme of democratic workers’ ownership and control of Iraqi resources - to provide jobs, homes, public services and meet the needs of ordinary Iraqis - unity could be forged to force out the occupying powers and fight for a socialist Iraq and a socialist federation of the Middle East.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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