Iraq: The occupation of Iraq

SADDAM’S REGIME HAS crumbled (as we go to press, 11 April) under the impact of the US-British invasion, though fierce, sporadic fighting continues in Baghdad and other cities. Scenes of Saddam’s statues being torn down have been beamed around the world to convey images of ‘liberation’. But covering the tottering monument with the US Stars and Stripes, however briefly, also signalled the arrival of an occupying power. The crowds on the streets in Baghdad, mainly young Shias from the eastern part of the city, have not been a tidal wave of celebration. The majority of Iraqis have very mixed feelings. Relieved at the end of the dictatorship, they are far from being pro-American, and fear a foreign occupation. After years of deprivation imposed by Western sanctions, they have paid a heavy human price during this intense, three-week invasion.

Victory can appear to be its own justification, and Bush and Blair will claim that their policy of pre-emptive military intervention has been justified. Yet the USA’s relatively easy superpower victory over Iraq refutes the claim that Saddam’s regime threatened military disaster, especially the absurd fantasy that Saddam’s weapons posed an immediate threat to the US homeland itself. No chemical weapons were used and it remains to be seen whether useable weapons will be found. But the invasion brought death to thousands of innocent men, women and children, and has inflicted horrendous wounds on tens of thousands. Fiendish products of modern technology, such as cluster bombs, were used with complete disregard for human life. The legacy of injury and mutilation, especially of young children, will not allow Iraqis to forget the US-British military action.

Basic services have collapsed. Millions are without water, electricity, telephones and, most critical of all, basic medical facilities. In Basra, Baghdad and no doubt elsewhere there has been widespread looting, both by criminal gangs and hoards of poor people. "Understandably", writes Robert Fisk from Baghdad, "the poor and the oppressed took their revenge on the homes of the men of Saddam’s regime who have impoverished and destroyed their lives, sometimes quite literally, for more than two decades". (Independent, 11 April) The massive villas of Saddam’s cronies have been stripped bare, as have public buildings and even some hospitals. The masterful Pentagon planners were evidently not prepared for the social collapse that has followed the regime’s demise. They have put in place no resources and personnel to provide even the most the basic life support to the population they have supposedly ‘liberated’.

While the Western capitalist media deplore the ‘breakdown of law and order’, US imperialism is already implementing plans to loot the country’s oil wealth and profit from rebuilding what it has only just destroyed.

Bush and the Pentagon hawks will claim that their victory vindicates their military tactics and demonstrates the USA’s unchallengeable military supremacy. But their real problems in Iraq are only just beginning. Over the next period they will face an incalculable blow-back from their military aggression. A lethal suicide bomb attack on US marines and the assassination of the leading Shia cleric, Abdul Majid al-Khoi, who was being groomed by the US as a ‘moderate’ Shia ally, are just early symptoms of the problems the US and Britain will face as occupying powers. Moreover, there is growing opposition, even among some pro-US exiles and would-be leaders of the new Iraq, to the role of Ahmad Chalabi, whom Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the Pentagon hawks are backing as the Iraqi figurehead for their occupying regime. Previously convicted in Jordan for a multi-million dollar fraud, Chalabi is from the old landlord-capitalist ruling class that was displaced by the Ba'athist regime. It would be hard to find a more discredited figure to front a transitional government.

The liberation of Kirkuk and Mosul by the peshmerga forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) is a great victory for the Kurdish people. Despite the apparent agreement between the US and PUK/KDP leaders to withdraw the peshmergas, however, the Kurdish takeover of these key cities, at the centre of Iraq’s second-biggest oil field, has the potential to trigger armed intervention by the Turkish regime, igniting a war within a war.

Will the world, after the military defeat of Saddam’s regime, be any more stable or safer? The whole Middle-East region, for a start, will become even more volatile as a result. The threat of terrorist attacks will be multiplied. President Mubarak of Egypt, an ally of US imperialism, has himself warned: "If there is one bin Laden now, there will be 100 bin Ladens afterwards".

The lives of Americans, contrary to Bush’s claims, will now be less secure and safe, and US agencies abroad will be even more vulnerable to attack. A heavy economic penalty will be levied on the US working class, moreover, as Bush’s policies aggravate US capitalism’s deep structural problems. Even as Bush asked Congress for another $50 billion instalment for the war, Republicans in Congress voted to cut $20 billion from the war veterans’ budget over the next 20 years and Bush himself cut $172 million from school funding for the children of military personnel. (Guardian, 2 April) At the moment, Bush may be riding high on his military victory. The downward slide of the US economy, with indications of a new recession, makes it far from certain that Bush can translate military success into re-election for a second term in 2004. Despite the feeble opposition of the Democrats, the Republicans’ rival capitalist party, Bush junior may well suffer the same fate as Bush senior, who won the 1990-91 Gulf war but lost the 1992 presidential election.

The anti-war movement in the US (far stronger than at the early stages of the Vietnam war) is an overture to the mass movement that will erupt in the future against the big capitalist corporations and the USA’s corrupt ruling class.

Pre-emptive military action by the US against Iraq (aided and abetted by Blair) marks a turning point in world relations. But so too does 15 February – the unprecedented world-wide protests of perhaps 30 million, followed by many more mass demonstrations throughout the world. They did not succeed in stopping the war, but nevertheless shook capitalist leaders everywhere (despite what they may say) and are a measure of the political price that will be paid later by leaders, like Blair, Aznar, Howard, Berlusconi and others, who have given their support to US imperialism. From this anti-war movement, including from among the tens of thousands of radicalised school students who took energetic protest action, will come a new generation of working-class activists who fight against war and its capitalist perpetrators and engage in the struggle for a socialist society.

A one-sided war

THE COLLAPSE OF Saddam’s regime followed from a very one-sided military struggle. A mighty superpower, equipped with hi-tech weapons and backed with immense material resources, confronted an isolated, third-world regime with outdated, depleted resources. Iraq was militarily much weaker than at the time of the 1990-91 Gulf war. Saddam had no operational air power, while the US has a massive force of aircraft and missiles, much more accurate than in the past though still causing horrendous civilian casualties.

The majority of Iraq’s 400,000 troops, including the elite Republican Guard, were never deployed in direct engagement with US forces. The Iraqi army did not even manage to destroy key bridges along the route to Baghdad, an elementary step for any defensive operation. There has been no use of biological or chemical weapons, and so far none have been found. The fierce resistance to the US-British invasion was overwhelmingly from irregular forces, mainly Saddam’s Fedayeen, with some volunteers from other Arab countries and elements of the Republican Guard. These forces mainly comprised hardcore supporters of the Ba’athist regime, loyalist strata of the state machine, the army and security forces. They did not reflect a broad, popular resistance movement. The regime’s lack of social base has been revealed by the mood on the streets when it was clear on 9 April that Saddam’s power had crumbled to dust, and crowds joined US forces in tearing down Saddam’s statues.

Yet the US-British invasion was not the expected ‘cakewalk’, as US field commanders were forced to admit. Rumsfeld’s rosy scenario did not work out. There was no military coup against Saddam when the invasion forces first landed, nor an immediate collapse of the army. Above all, there was no uprising to greet the invaders, even in predominantly Shia areas like Basra. At one point (27 March) the leading US field commander, General William Wallace, publicly stated that the resistance was much stronger than they had expected. "The enemy we are fighting", he said, "is different to the one we’d war-gamed against". Wallace called for a pause in the US advance on Baghdad to allow for consolidation of the US forces’ overstretched and harassed supply lines. This brought sharp behind-the-scenes exchanges between the field commanders and the Rumsfeld leadership in the Pentagon. In the light of the US victory, Rumsfeld and the hawks will no doubt triumphantly claim their tactics have been vindicated against conservative generals. But the difficulties encountered by US forces in their advance on Baghdad show the dangers in such high-risk military tactics, which succeeded only because of the rotten character of Saddam’s regime. It would be entirely different if the US was facing forces backed by mass, popular support.

With no mass resistance, the military balance of forces predetermined a US victory, with only the timescale in question – as well as the cost in terms of human casualties. Once US forces reached Baghdad, the Iraqi command system began to crumble, and serious resistance in the capital collapsed within a few days.

Saddam’s irregular forces received little support from the population. The majority adopted a passive, wait-and-see attitude. There was deep hostility towards the regime, as later events showed. But there was a very ambivalent mood towards the invading forces. One factor was clearly fear of Saddam’s security forces. There was no question of openly welcoming US and British forces until it was clear that the military-police regime was decisively smashed. There was no uprising in the South to greet the invasion, contrary to the Pentagon’s expectations. The Shia population still has bitter memories of 1991, when Bush senior called for an uprising and then stood back while Saddam’s forces massacred the insurgents and resorted to even more systematic, vicious repression.

However much the majority of the population may welcome Saddam’s demise, there is deep suspicion of the US’s motives. The CIA, after all, supported the coup which brought Saddam to power in the first place. The US armed Saddam during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and turned a blind eye at that time to his use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops (mainly young conscripts) and the Kurds in Northern Iraq. There is universal understanding, moreover, that the US wants to get its hands on Iraq’s oil wealth. Weary with two decades of war and deprivation, many will initially welcome the US role in overthrowing Saddam. But there will also be resentment at the wounds inflicted on the Iraqi people, with thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of serious injuries. There will be no mass support for a prolonged US occupation and the longer it lasts the stronger will be the resistance.

Already the relatively small forces used for the ‘blitzkrieg’ assault on Baghdad appear to be completely insufficient for the US to establish control of the country following the shattering of Saddam’s state apparatus and the collapse of the public infrastructure. World attention is focused in Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, and a handful of the bigger cities, while in many others there is little or no US-British presence. Moreover, while Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their Pentagon advisers have spent years and years formulating their plans for pre-emptive military strikes, they have apparently given little or no attention to the immediate problems of post-war administration and humanitarian relief.

Organising the occupation

EVEN BEFORE THE invasion began the US was drawing up plans for its post-war occupation of Iraq. After its unilateral military action (with the support of Britain and a handful of allies) to achieve ‘regime change’, US imperialism is determined to decide the character of the new regime. There are clearly some differences within the Bush administration over how to proceed. But behind the diplomatic manoeuvres and blatant lies, the key strategic aims of the US are quite clear.

The US wants strategic control over Middle East oil reserves, still the world’s biggest and cheapest. Direct control of Iraqi oil, the US calculates, will allow it to smash the power of Opec and undermine the leverage of states like Saudi Arabia in world oil markets. This, they hope, will open up a new era of cheap oil and, they imagine, revive the growth of the world capitalist economy (though oil at $10 a barrel would spell disaster for most oil-producing states).

Alongside oil, the US wants to open up Iraqi industries and markets to US corporations. They have already begun by awarding ‘reconstruction’ contracts to a handful of US companies, mostly closely connected with the Republican Party (see page 11). Under Saddam, large sections of Iraqi industry were nationalised. This was not socialism but a form of ‘state capitalism’, which Saddam developed as the economic base for his military apparatus and a source of wealth for his family and the ruling clique. The US will enforce rapid de-nationalisation, allowing US and perhaps some other Western companies to take over large sections of the Iraqi economy.

US imperialism undoubtedly sees post-war Iraq as a key point of military influence in the region. Part of any US-approved settlement will almost certainly be a permanent US military base, or bases, similar to the bases it has established in the Central Asian republics during the war against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, or the Guantánamo base (retained by the US in Cuba since 1903). A key strategic aim of the hawks is to tip the regional balance of power in favour of the US and its key regional ally, Israel. Washington is already preparing to rearm a new Iraqi regime. In his proposed supplementary war budget last month, Bush asked Congress for authority to sell munitions to Iraq "if the president determines that the export of such items is in the national interests of the United States". (Boston Globe, 7 April)

To achieve these aims US imperialism needs a ‘reliable’ pro-US regime. The aim of a transitional government, as far as the US is concerned, is to lay the foundations of such a new regime. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the so-called ‘Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance’ (ORHA) is headed by an ex-general and arms dealer, Jay Garner. His administration will operate under the authority of the regional military commander, Tommy Franks, with 23 US ‘ministers’ assisted by Iraqi ‘advisors’. The real proconsul of occupied Iraq will be the US defence secretary, Rumsfeld.

The composition of the transitional government has brought new divisions within the Bush regime, on the same lines as the pre-war split between the Pentagon and the State Department. The Pentagon hawks, led by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, are pushing for their nominees to play the dominant role in Garner’s administration. Their proposals include the former CIA director, James Woolsey, as head of information. Wolfowitz is also pushing for Chalabi and other exiles from the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to play a prominent front-role in the transitional government. This is being resisted by the State Department and even by the CIA, which originally created the INC but now evidently has no confidence in Chalabi. Colin Powell and other more far-sighted strategists of US imperialism fear that the appearance of a US colonial administration and a stooge government composed of Iraqi exiles will actually undermine the position of US imperialism in Iraq.

Role of the UN?

THERE ARE ALSO differences in Washington over the role of the UN. This issue will once again bring the US into collision with powers such as France, Germany and Russia, most Middle Eastern states, and probably a majority of UN member states. France, Russia and Germany, in particular, are using the UN issue as a lever for their own interests. France and Russia also pursue imperialistic policies, attempting to maintain their own spheres of political and economic influence. German capitalism, which has been extending its economic influence in Central and Eastern Europe, is attempting to develop a military capability more commensurate with its economic weight. These powers see the UN framework as a means of checking the actions of US imperialism, fearing its increased economic and strategic dominance. As always, when the major powers follow divergent policies, the UN is paralysed. When the imperialist powers agree on a common approach, the UN can be used to legitimise their intervention. But Iraq shows that when the US cannot get Security Council support for its policy it will sideline the UN.

Under pressure from Blair, who desperately needs UN cover in order to legitimise his own support for the US, Bush (during his visit to Northern Ireland) promised that the UN would play a "vital role" in the transition. But the joint Blair/Bush statement was evasive, to say the least. While welcoming the UN providing "immediate humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq", it spoke merely of seeking a new Security Council resolution to "endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq". This is simply camouflage for the USA’s determination to dictate the form of the transition. Even Powell, ‘the dove’, has made it clear that he considers "the coalition has to play the leading role in determining the way forward". (Independent, 4 April)

The hawks, however, go further. Wolfowitz says the UN has "an important role to play", but sees this as primarily providing food, healthcare and so on. In other words, he wants a role for "the functional agencies that the UN has run so successfully", but is implacably opposed to any UN responsibility for a transitional government. In off-the-record briefings, Pentagon officials go even further. "It is America’s own plan [for the transition] to enact, as we see fit, with our coalition allies", said one official. (Observer, 6 April) "This war proceeds without the UN", said another. "There is no need for the UN, which is not relevant to be involved in building a democratic Iraq".

The future government of Iraq, claimed Wolfowitz on TV recently, would be "chosen by and run by Iraqis", and would "not [be] a colonial administration or a UN administration or run in any way by foreigners". (International Herald Tribune, 7 April) However, at the very time Wolfowitz was saying this, the US was flying Ahmad Chalabi and 700 INC ‘fighters’ into Southern Iraq, "to help with humanitarian liaison and to fight Saddam loyalists". In reality, Chalabi has been sent to position himself politically for a prominent role in the transition. In particular, Chalabi and his gang of armed minders have been sent to An-Nasariyah to intervene in the conference of ‘free Iraqi’ leaders (selected by the CIA) to provide internal support for the US administration.

The US’s attempt to sideline the UN, however, is likely to sharpen the pre-war clash between the US and Britain, on the one side, and France and other states that oppose the US-British invasion, on the other. Prior to a meeting with Putin and Schröder in St Petersburg, Chirac said: "We are no longer in an era when one or two countries can control the fate of another country. Therefore, the political, economic, humanitarian and administrative reconstruction of Iraq is a matter for the United Nations and for it alone". There is clearly the possibility that France, Russia and other Security Council members may oppose any attempt to legitimise a US-determined transitional regime. In an unusually blunt statement for a UN official, Shashi Tharoor, under-secretary general, warned the US and Britain against appearing as "people dividing up the spoils of conquest". A US-led administration would lack legitimacy, he said, and have no legal right to sell Iraqi oil. "The UN has no desire whatsoever to see Iraq as some sort of treasure chest to be divided up". (Independent, 9 April)

In spite of the many limitations of their relief operations, UN agencies comprise an extensive apparatus with considerable experience in administering humanitarian aid. If UN agencies stay out of Iraq (refusing to take the ‘poisoned chalice’ of working under US control), and other international relief agencies and NGOs follow suit, there could be a much more serious, prolonged humanitarian crisis in Iraq. The Pentagon clearly has no desire for its military forces to be tied up with humanitarian tasks, which are low on its order of priorities. If there is a humanitarian disaster, however, the US and Britain will bear the responsibility.

A new client regime

EVEN SOME OF the exiled Iraqi leaders promoted by the US are now questioning the US’s approach to a transitional government. They fear that they will be discredited by association with people like Chalabi, who comes from a prominent ruling-class family under the British-installed monarchy and has not lived in Iraq for well over 30 years. They fear they will be seen as quislings, collaborators with an occupying power. One exiled Iraqi businessman was asked by a senior US official for advice on how to recruit 250 staff for the transitional regime. "I was appalled. I told him that all the 250 people, if he could find them, would be regarded as spies by the rest of Iraqis. I told him he would be better off thinking about the 500 soldiers he would need just to keep him alive". (Independent, 6 April) Yet the US is clearly pushing ahead with this approach.

The plan is to purge the top layer of Saddam’s regime, members of his ruling clique and leaders of the Ba’ath Party and security apparatus. The US is drawing up plans for US military war-crimes trials for Saddam and other top Iraqi leaders who may be taken into US custody. The US intends to bypass the international war crimes tribunals that have been used after other wars, such as in the former Yugoslavia. Whatever the crimes of Saddam and his ruling clique, a US-dominated process will be seen throughout the Arab world as ‘victor’s justice’.

The US will try to salvage the bureaucracy and most of the army and police as the basis for a new, reconstituted state apparatus. In particular, it will build up the military under US direction. Favoured political leaders will be supported, financed as ‘agents of influence’ for the US. In time, the US no doubt plans to hold elections in an attempt to legitimise a new regime. Financial support, business links, and control of the media would be used in an attempt to ensure that US-backed forces win power through any electoral process. US-backed personalities and parties, with US resources behind them, will have an enormous advantage given the destruction of independent parties and trade unions under Saddam’s regime, and the absence of information and free discussion. Even the hawks have to recognise that, in this period, they cannot maintain direct colonial rule. Chalabi himself has demagogically proclaimed that Iraqis themselves and not the US occupiers must run Iraq. Nevertheless, with the collaboration of stooges like Chalabi, the US will work to establish a client regime behind the façade of parliamentary forms.

In trying to establish a client regime, however, US imperialism faces the problem of the ethnic/religious make-up of the Iraqi population. Saddam’s regime was based on the Sunni population, while the Shia form the majority of the population. A straightforward, direct election would result in a Shia government. That would strengthen the influence of the Shia-based Iranian regime in Iraq, the last thing the US wants, as it regards Iran as a second member of the ‘axis of evil’. A Shia government in Iraq would also be seen as an extremely dangerous development by the Saudi regime, a reactionary Sunni monarchy, which fears the strengthening of Shia opposition forces in the region and within its own domain.

Kurdish autonomy

IN THE NORTH, the Kurdish minority has enormously strengthened its position. As the US was refused permission by Turkey to bring a major invasion force from the North, US special forces were obliged to rely on the peshmerga, the paramilitary forces of the two main Kurdish parties, which have now liberated Kirkuk and Mosul. Since the end of the Gulf war, the Kurds have enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in the Northern zone under the protection of the US-British-enforced no-fly zone. There is undoubtedly a deep desire for permanent autonomy, including a control or at least a substantial share of the Northern oil fields. This is widely seen among Kurds as a step towards an independent Kurdish state. This is bitterly opposed by the Turkish regime, which has threatened to invade if the Kurds take control of the Kirkuk oil field or move towards the formation of even an autonomous statelet. The Iranian and Syrian regimes also oppose Kurdish autonomy. Nor will any central Iraqi regime, based on national landlords and capitalists, be willing to concede territory or the oil wealth to the Kurdish minority.

The Kurdish leaders, it is reported, have agreed with the US to withdraw their armed forces from Kirkuk and Mosul. A column of US forces is on route to ensure this withdrawal. If it takes place, this would comply with Powell’s recent promise to the Turkish regime that there will be no Kurdish takeover of the Northern oil region. The leaders of the KDP and PUK, who represent national Kurdish capitalist interests, have entered into a pact with US imperialism. They calculate that this will secure both a permanent Kurdish autonomous area in Northern Iraq and US protection from Turkish invasion. This is far from guaranteed, however. How many times have the Kurdish leaders’ deals with the US and regimes in Tehran, Damascus, Baghdad and Ankara resulted in outright betrayal? The KDP/PUK leaders will come under enormous pressure from the Kurdish workers and peasants for the reclaiming of the homes and land from which they were expelled by the Saddam regime and for the establishment of at least regional self-rule. What degree of Kurdish autonomy the Turkish regime will tolerate is an open question.

In order to "preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq", in other words to establish a national capitalist state based on the Sunni minority, the US is likely to attempt to impose a federal constitution prior to any elections being held. Like the post-World War II constitution of Lebanon, it would attempt to maintain a balance between Sunnis, Shia and Kurds in the main state institutions (the presidency, ministries, parliament, etc). Such a federal set up would in reality be a power-sharing deal mainly between the traditional clan and religious leaders of Iraq’s main religious and ethnic groups. It would not satisfy popular aspirations – or even the sectional demands of the different religious/ethnic groups. Resting on a weak national capitalism, dominated by imperialism, a new federal state would not solve the social-economic problems that underlie competition for power and resources. Even if it were initially accepted, the changing demographic and political balance between religious/ethnic groups would tend to undermine it. Moreover, Iraq, which was the artificial creation of British imperialism, does not exist in a regional vacuum. The regimes of neighbouring states – Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia – will all try to exploit their influence over different sections of the Iraqi population to push their own interests. The idea that Iraq, under US influence, will become a model liberal democracy is a fantasy. New Iraq will continue to be a country of crisis. The fate of Lebanon, where the ethnic balance broke down in the horrendous civil war, which broke out in 1975, is a warning of what can happen.

In the aftermath of its military victory, the US will try to push through its plans for Iraq. The population is war weary and most Iraqis face a daily struggle for survival. They are likely to face even more hardship in the coming months, given the devastating effects of the war and the ensuing social chaos. Nevertheless, the US will not have everything its own way in trying to implement the crude schemes dreamed up in the Pentagon. They will attempt to cultivate friends through bribery and create a client capitalist ruling class. But there is no prospect of the US substantially raising living standards for the whole population, or guaranteeing good healthcare, education, and other support services. The US will face, over a period of time, growing opposition to US domination and any pro-US regime that is installed. They will face terrorist attacks, both from within the country and supported from other Arab states, especially from right-wing Islamic organisations. The current euphoria at the downfall of Saddam will be replaced by resentment at the price exacted from innocent Iraqi men, women and children by the US-Britain military assault. Anger will grow at the looting of oil and other resources by US corporations and their Iraqi agents. A new generation of workers and youth will begin to rebuild the workers’ organisations destroyed by Saddam’s regime and to move into struggle to defend their class interests against imperialism, class oppression, and religious reaction.

Growing Arab anger

THE INITIAL IRAQI resistance to the US-British invasion aroused feelings of pride throughout the Arab states. "Very few, if any, are under any illusion that Iraq could win the war", said Hani Shukrallah, of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Weekly. "All are outraged and grief-stricken at the death and destruction being wreaked on the Iraqi people, and most people realise that much more lies ahead. Yet none can help but feel a certain pride, a sense of dignity restored. We are not, after all, mice". (We Are All Iraqis Now, 27

March) A young Egyptian Airline clerk explained why he had left his wife and three children "to fight against the Americans and Zionists who want to go after all other Arabs and Muslims". Arab people, he said, had to "answer the call, especially since the Arab regimes are incapable of standing up and defending the Arab nation when it is threatened". (Sunday Times, 30 March) Now there is a sense of humiliation and rage at yet another defeat inflicted on the Arab people.

The appearance, however briefly, of the US Stars and Stripes on Saddam’s toppling statue in Baghdad sent out a powerful signal of colonial occupation, with the US re-enacting the role played by British and French imperialism in the past. The Moroccan daily, Al Bayane, warned that the world is at the threshold of "a new colonial era". ( – 7 April) The warning appeared to be reinforced by Rumsfeld’s threats against Iran and Syria, which he accused of hiding Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons and helping fleeing Ba’athist leaders.

Military action against Iraq, moreover, is seen throughout the Arab states as a move to strengthen the Israeli state and its right-wing Likud leadership. Bush pays perfunctory lip service to the latest ‘road map’, while Sharon has, in reality, contemptuously repudiated it. Whatever the map shows, the destination is clearly not self-determination for the Palestinians. After the 1990-91 Gulf war, the US placated the Arab world with the Oslo process which led to the setting up of the Palestinian Authority, supposedly a step towards a Palestinian state. What is on offer today? More intense military repression of the Palestinians by the Israeli state, with the offer of even more circumscribed Palestinian enclaves run under Israel’s rules.

Many of the Arab regimes fear that they will come under increasing pressure from the US, or even face the threat of US military intervention. They are even more afraid, however, of the angry mood on the Arab street. Mass anti-war demonstrations in the Arab states, which regimes in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere, were forced to tolerate (though still moving to control them through violent military policing) were directed as much against these repressive regimes as against US intervention. There appears to be no relief from extreme economic and social crisis. There is outrage at the regimes’ collaboration with the US. Mubarak has allowed US warships through the Suez Canal, the Saudi rulers have permitted the US to direct its air strikes from a command centre on their territory (though this is carefully concealed from the Saudi population).

Far from stabilising the region and inaugurating a new era of free-market capitalism and liberal democracy, as the Washington neo-conservatives imagine, the US occupation of Iraq will provoke instability, social upheaval, and convulsive political changes. It has increased the possibility of right-wing Islamic forces coming to power in states like Saudi Arabia – the very opposite result from that intended by the Bush regime.

Neo-conservative strategy

THE BUSH HAWKS have made it clear that they regard the invasion of Iraq, the first war conducted under their new doctrine of pre-emptive war, as "a demonstration conflict, an experiment in forcible disarmament". (David Sanger, Washington Hopes War Will Get Message to Other Nations, New York Times, 7 April) James Woolsey, the former CIA director (1993-95), who is the Pentagon’s choice as post-war Iraqi minister of information, goes even further. The US, he proclaims, has (following the ‘third world war’, the 1945-90 cold war) now engaged in a ‘fourth world war’. "More than a war against terrorism, this is a war to extend democracy to those parts of the Arab and Muslim world that threaten the liberal civilisation we worked to build and defend throughout the 20th century" Having dealt with the "Ba’athist fascists", the US will now confront Iran, Syria, Sudan and Libya, which all "sponsor and assist terrorism [and] have sought weapons of mass destruction". (James Woolsey, Welcome to the Fourth World War, The Guardian, 8 April)

More balanced bourgeois strategists are alarmed at the simplistic, fanatical doctrine of the Bush hawks, which they fear can have potentially disastrous consequences for the US ruling class. George Soros, the financier and freelance bourgeois ideologue, writes of the "Bubble of American Supremacy" ( – March 2003). He makes a telling analogy between Bush’s pursuit of military supremacy and the boom-bust process in the stock market. "The dominant position of the US is the reality, the pursuit of American supremacy [through exclusive reliance on military power] the misconception". The overvaluation of naked power, he argues, is analogous to the overvaluation of share prices relative to the actual value of company assets and profits. International relations are ultimately relations of power. Nevertheless, legitimacy, diplomacy, alliances, cultural and political influence – all the elements of so-called ‘soft’ power – also play a part. "No empire could ever be held together by military power alone". Already, as a result of the Bush strategy, the major post-war alliances, Nato and the EU, are divided. "The US is perceived", contends Soros, both by the European powers and weaker states, "as a giant bully throwing its weight around".

The Taliban regime was overthrown, but Karzai is shaky and Afghanistan is still torn by conflict. The conflict between India and Pakistan could flare up again at any time, with the danger of nuclear exchanges. Bush’s repudiation of the ‘sunshine’ policy initiated by the previous South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, has led to a confrontation with North Korea, which has a massive conventional arsenal and possibly nuclear weapons. Even before consolidating its grip on Iraq, Rumsfeld is threatening action against Syria.

Soros fears that a relatively easy US victory against Iraq will reinforce the Bush regime’s misconceptions. "Military victory in Iraq is the easy part. It is what comes after that that gives pause. In a boom-bust process, passing an early test tends to reinforce the misconception that gives rise to it". The strategy of coercive diplomacy and pre-emptive military strikes, Soros says, should be abandoned before it gets out of hand. Otherwise, he warns, the gap between the realities of world relations and neo-conservative delusions will become ever wider – before the eventual, inevitable reversal. "The later it comes, the more devastating the consequences".

This is Soros’s warning to the ruling class. It is sombre enough even though he makes no mention of the unprecedented anti-war movement and appears to take no account of the growing struggles of the working class, peasantry and dispossessed as they strive to find a way out of the nightmare of capitalism.

Soros’s focus is on the inter-imperialist and inter-capitalist conflicts that will be provoked by the neo-conservative US strategy, the national conflicts, civil wars and social collapse. On the basis of the diseased economic system championed by Soros, however, we unavoidably face growing barbarism on a global scale, not the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberal civilisation’ promised by fanatics like Woolsey. Our focus will be on the world-wide struggle by the working class for the socialist transformation of society to lift humanity out of the mine-strewn quagmire of capitalism.

Oil imperialism

IN A US Central Command briefing on 22 March, General Franks reviewed the military objectives of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. Seventh on the list was "to secure Iraq’s oil fields and resources". In fact, two days previously US and British special forces had taken control of the key oil and gas installations on the al-Faw peninsula. In truth, that was the first objective of the US-led invasion.

Oil and gas supplies are now much more geographically diverse than they were even ten years ago. New technology has made additional reserves economically viable. Whereas the Gulf accounted for 40% of oil sales in 1975 it now accounts for about 30%. Nevertheless, the Gulf is still a vital energy source, especially as its oil can be pumped extremely cheaply (about $1.5 a barrel).

The depletion of other regions, especially the US and the North Sea, will tend to increase the importance of the Gulf region. ‘Reserves’ are elastic. New exploration and advanced technology can produce much bigger exploitable reserves. Proven Iraqi reserves, for instance, are currently put at 112 billion, but some US government estimates consider there may be as much as 432 billion barrels.

US designs on the Gulf’s are not merely about oil company profits, though. Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, and Gulf are eager to take over Iraq’s oil industry. But this is part of a broader strategy of US imperialism. Control of oil resources are an integral element of US imperialism’s global interests. Energy, profit and power are interlinked and cannot be separated.

"Oil is high-profile stuff", says Robert Ebel, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank. "Oil fuels military power, national treasuries, and international politics. It is no longer a commodity to be bought and sold within the confines of traditional energy supply and demand balances. Rather, it has been transferred into a determinant of well-being, of national security, and of international power".

"Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel", says Michael Klare, author of Resource Wars. "Control of the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It’s having our hand on the spigot [tap]".

Ever since the 1973 ‘oil shock’ US imperialism has been building up its capacity for a military intervention in the Gulf. In response to the Arab-Israel war, the OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries) producers (dominated by the Arab states and Iran) implemented an oil boycott and immediately trebled the price of crude oil. Neo-conservative hawks like Cheney and Rumsfeld simplistically blamed the oil shock for a host of problems: accelerated inflation, the wave of working-class militancy, and a new spate of third-world revolutions.

In 1980, a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, effectively declared the Gulf a zone of US influence: "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force". Carter developed the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) which later became the Central Command.

Under Reagan and Bush senior, US bases were strengthened in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, etc. During the Afghanistan war, the US set up new bases in the Central Asian republics.

After the 9/11 attacks, in which most of the hijackers were Saudi nationals, the hawks saw Saudi Arabia as "the kernel of evil". A leaked paper to the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board recommended a US ultimatum to the House of

Saud: Stop backing terrorism, or face seizure of your oil fields and financial assets in the US. Publicly, Rumsfeld had to repudiate this attack on the US’s long-standing ally.

Control of Iraq’s oil reserves, the hawks believe, will allow the US to break the powerful influence on the oil market of the Saudi regime, as well as smashing Opec. One of their delusions is that cheap oil (if they secure it) will dissolve the deep-rooted crisis in the world capitalist economy.

Despite the attraction of huge profits in Iraq, many leaders of the US oil companies are apprehensive. They fear war and occupation will turn Arab states against the US and Western oil companies. "It’s greed versus fear", says a former US diplomat. Anne Joyce, of the Washington-based Middle East Policy Council, says most oil industry executives are worried that tensions in the region may spiral out of control. "They see it as much too risky, and they are risk averse", she says. "They think it has ‘fiasco’ written all over it".

The scramble for spoils

The fate of Iraq as a US protectorate is already foreshadowed by emerging US plans for post-war reconstruction and the handing out of lucrative reconstruction contracts to a favoured handful of US corporations. At the same time, leaks from the State Department reveal that Washington has already drawn up plans for the privatisation of Iraq’s state-owned national oil company, which will allow Big Oil to grab the country’s huge oil assets.

EVEN BEFORE US-BRITISH forces entered Iraq, USAID (US Agency for International Development) and USACE (US Army Corps of Engineers) awarded initial contracts worth up to $1 billion to several corporations closely connected to the right-wing leadership of the Republican Party. Only US firms were in the running and the usual competitive tendering process was bypassed on grounds of speed and security.

The contracts cover reconstruction or repairs to airports, railroads, schools, telephone exchanges, hospitals and irrigation systems. Successful contractors can expect to reap millions of dollars of profits from repairing the damage now being inflicted on Iraq by the US-British invasion force.

USAID awarded a $4.8 million contract to the Seattle-based Stevedoring Services of America to manage the Umm Qasr port, Iraq’s only seaport, long before it was taken by US-British forces. USACE awarded the contract for extinguishing oil field fires to KBR, a subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton Co. The ties of vice-president Dick Cheney with Halliburton are well known. He was the company’s chief executive from 1995 to 2000 (irregularities during that period were later investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission). Cheney severed his links when he ran for vice-president, but is still receiving up to $1 million a year in ‘deferred’ severance pay. Halliburton made political donations to Cheney, as well as contributing $17,677 to Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. (Sunday Times, 30 March)

"Halliburton is the most prominent example", comments Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore expert on government contracting, "but the largely non-competitive nature of the bidding continues to favour companies politically connected to the administration through campaign donations and shut out competitive offers even from our fighting allies like Great Britain". (Washington Post, 31 March)

Facing a growing outcry against political corruption, USAID announced that KBR was no longer in the running for the first batch of post-war reconstruction contracts. Nevertheless, KBR will still continue to make huge profits from the US occupation of Iraq under a ten-year deal, made in December 2001, to provide logistical support to US forces. It has already collected $830 million from the US government for supporting operations in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Georgia, Jordan and Uzbekistan. Under the ‘cost-plus-award-fee’ terms of the contract, KBR rakes in guaranteed profits. (CorpWatch, 20 March 2003) Other companies with strong Republican connections, however, are still very much in the running. One is the giant Bechtel Group, whose directors include the former secretary of state, George Shultz, and other former Republican cabinet members. Bechtel is the main contractor for Boston’s notorious ‘Big Dig’, the downtown highway project which is years late and millions of dollars overspent. Bechtel’s record (and its relationship with the Port Authority, which has been shaken by several corruption scandals) is currently under scrutiny in public hearings in Boston. Bechtel was also one of the main contractors on London Underground’s notoriously unreliable Jubilee Line extension.

Another prominent bidder for Iraq reconstruction projects is the Fluor Corporation, which is currently facing a multi-billion dollar lawsuit claiming that it exploited and brutalised black workers in South Africa during the apartheid era.

The Center for Responsive Politics says that the five construction companies on the shortlist for the initial rebuilding contract donated $2.8 million to candidates during the last two election cycles. (Financial Times, 21 March)

Big business leaders in Europe, South Korea, and elsewhere are furious that they are being excluded from the Iraqi reconstruction contracts. This is especially true in Britain, where the big international contractors believe they should benefit from a ‘most favoured nation’ status for Britain on account of its contribution to the invasion force. About 80 British building contractors and engineering consultants called a meeting with the director of Trade Partners UK, a government agency, to put pressure on Blair to lobby the US for a share of the contracts. Stuart Doughty, chief executive of Costain, was blatant in calling for a big business payback for Britain’s military support for the US intervention. Doughty argues that the UN should be kept out of plans for post-war Iraq, to ensure that "those who have been violently against this conflict don’t share in the reconstruction". (Observer, 6 April) No wonder one unnamed business leader criticised the lobbyists’ meeting as "an ambulance chasers’ convention".

Up to now, the US government has only offered British firms the possible consolation prize of subcontracts from successful US contractors. Frances Cook, the former US ambassador to Oman and now a consultant to several Middle Eastern companies, has been lobbying the US to include companies from Egypt and Jordan to show appreciation for their cooperation in the war effort. "They are already screaming in the Middle East – you call us corrupt, look at you giving contracts to American companies and no one else". (New York Times, 19 March)

But Colin Powell, speaking to Congress on 26 March, bluntly spelt out the US position: "We didn’t take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have a significant dominating control over how it unfolds". A determination to maintain tight economic control of Iraq suggests that the Bush regime will be very reluctant to concede any real control to the UN. Washington is more likely to assign a subordinate, ‘humanitarian’ role to the UN. EU leaders are clearly alarmed at this prospect. Christopher Patten, the EU foreign affairs commissioner, warned Washington that Europe would find it difficult to help finance reconstruction after the war without UN approval. "It will be that much more difficult for the European Union to cooperate fully and on a large scale also in the longer term reconstruction process if events unfold without proper UN cover" Patten described the awarding of contracts exclusively to US companies as "exceptionally maladroit". (New York Times, 18 March)

The new US viceroy

IN ANOTHER UNDIPLOMATIC, not to say provocative move, Bush has appointed a prominent arms dealer as ‘civilian’ viceroy to front the US military occupation of Iraq. Jay Garner, who will head the so-called Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), is a former general who is currently president of the Virginia-based SY Coleman, part of the defence electronics groups L-3 Communication. Garner has a long association with the Republican hawks, and has worked with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle both within the military and the arms industry.

Like other hawks, Garner is a supporter of right-wing Likud governments of the Israeli state – a record that is likely to arouse the deepest suspicions of the Arab world. In October 2000 Garner went on a ten-day expenses-paid visit to Israel, organised by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). This is one of the US think-tanks, funded by religious foundations and the arms industry, that form part of the neo-conservative hawks’ infrastructure during their long campaign for the military policy now being implemented in Iraq. After his Israel visit, Garner signed a JINSA statement praising the Israeli army for showing what it called "remarkable restraint" in suppressing the Palestinian uprising.

Garner supported Rumsfeld’s push for the missile defence project, the revival of Reagan’s Star Wars, and his company has profited from sales of the Patriot missiles (for which it makes the guidance systems) to Israel and US forces. SY Coleman was also awarded a $1.5 million contract to supply logistical services to US special operation forces in the war against Iraq (Observer, 30 March). Garner is currently facing legal action by a rival defence research contractor, DESE, who claim that as president of SY Technology Garner used his influence in the Pentagon to deny them a contract in return for a pay-off in the form of another lucrative contract. (Observer, 6 April)

Meanwhile, there has also been a conflict-of-interest scandal about Richard Perle, one of the prime architects, along with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, of the aggressive military policy adopted after 11 September.

In the late 1990s, Perle worked for a major satellite maker, Loral Space and Communications, defending them against US government charges that they had illegally transferred advanced military technology to the Chinese government. In January 2002, Loral, without admitting any violation, agreed to pay a $20 million penalty. More recently, Perle has been lobbying the department of defence on behalf of Global Crossing, the bankrupt telecommunications giant, to persuade the defence department to drop its objections to a proposed sale of its fibre optics network to foreign buyers in Hong Kong and Singapore. Perle stands to make up to $725,000 for this work. (New York Times, Richard Perle’s Conflict, 25 March) He is also a partner in Trireme Partners who invest in Homeland Defense, and a director of the British-based Autonomy Corporation, which has a large US government security contract. Although his Pentagon position is unpaid, Perle is nevertheless considered a ‘special government employee’ subject to federal ethics rules. Following criticism of his business deals, Perle announced (28 March) that he would resign as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, but he nevertheless remains a member of the board. (New York Times, 29 March)

Garner will play a key role in the awarding and supervision of reconstruction contracts. Yet the Bush regime sees no ‘conflict of interest’ involved in Garner’s appointment as viceroy, despite his big-business connections with the armaments industry. After the first Gulf war, Garner was responsible for three months for feeding and protecting Kurdish refugees in Northern Iraq. He was reportedly very popular, which is not surprising given that the US, for its own reasons, was establishing an autonomous Kurdish region. In the present situation, however, his appointment as US ‘viceroy’ will arouse resentment and anger amongst Iraqis and Arab opinion throughout the Middle East.

Washington insists that Garner’s ‘Office’ will provide a ‘temporary’ government for Iraq, but it more and more appears to be an apparatus for US direct rule. The government will comprise 23 ministries, each headed by a US administrator (mainly ex-diplomats and business leaders who share the hawk outlook) assisted by Iraqi advisors. Leaders of both the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Iraqi National Accord (INA) have denounced the US plans as unworkable. (Guardian, 2 April)

After a frosty meeting between Garner and senior UN officials in early March, one UN official commented: "It is clear that Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest have the ascendancy and think, having gone it alone in the war, they should get the benefit of being seen as liberators. Garner is their man. He is a true believer". "It is common knowledge", he added, "that they want to go it alone without the UN".

The ‘true believer’, however, has become caught up in a bitter conflict between the Pentagon and the State Department over the composition of Garner’s interim government. Determined to keep direct control of ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq, Rumsfeld and company have vetoed the State Department’s nominees as, according to Rumsfeld, "too low profile and bureaucratic". They have put forward counter proposals, including the former CIA director, James Woolsey, as director of information. Even Bush, it seems, may balk at this. Wolfowitz is pushing for Hamed Chalabi, leader of the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress, and a number of his entourage to be given positions. Chalabi is apparently to be offered an advisory post in the finance ministry, despite the fact that he was previously convicted in his absence of a multi-million dollar banking fraud in Jordan. (Guardian, 2 April) Chalabi, however, who was ambitious to become Iraqi prime minister after the fall of Saddam, is far from pleased and is threatening to set up his own rival government.

The black-gold rush

US-DIRECTED RECONSTRUCTION, under Garner’s government, will be funded from Iraqi oil revenues. Powell recently said: "We’re going to use the assets of the people of Iraq, especially their oil assets, to benefit their people". (New York Times, 24 March) The distribution of initial reconstruction contracts, however, points to the way the Iraqi oil industry is likely to go under US domination. According to a recent study, "Iraq’s oil sector will sector will require $5 billion in investment over three years to return it to pre-1991 production levels. That would jump to $15 billion to achieve full production levels". (Companies Start Discreet Lobbying for a Tilt at Contracts, Financial Times, 21 March)

Who can doubt that US oil companies will be allowed to grab the lion’s share of Iraq’s oil wealth? James Woolsey, the former CIA director, blatantly stated last year that those supporting the US-led ‘coalition’ would get a share of the spoils while those who refuse would be shut out. The close connections between the Bush leadership, as well as the right-wing Texas Republican establishment, with the big oil and gas corporations is notorious.

Leaks from the State Department’s ‘Future of Iraq Office’ show Washington plans to privatise the Iraqi economy and particularly the state-owned national oil company. (Jonathan Steele, Read the Small Print: The US Wants to Privatise Iraq’s Oil, Guardian, 31 March) First they intend to privatise retail petrol stations, a quick way of raking in cash from Iraqi consumers. Then they aim to privatise exploration and development. Oil revenues would no doubt be used to fund reconstruction. But a huge share of the wealth would be channelled off into profits for private, mainly US companies.

The experience of energy privatisation in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union is a warning of the way things are likely to go. A new class of oil capitalists pumped huge profits from the oil and gas fields, depositing most of their gains in offshore bank accounts. Russia’s huge energy resources have contributed very little to the modernisation of the economy and have far from ‘reconstructed’ the living standards of a majority of people. Russia’s gross domestic product, writes Joseph Stiglitz, the ex-Chief Economist of the World Bank, "remains almost 30% below what it was in 1990. At 4% growth per annum, it will take Russia’s economy another decade to get back to where it was when communism collapsed". (Guardian, 9 April)

The Iraqi people have enjoyed minimal benefits from the country’s oil wealth, especially in the last 20 years. Before nationalisation, profits were creamed off by British and other Western oil companies. After nationalisation, proceeds were used by the Baathist state to create a huge military apparatus and support the prestige projects and luxurious lifestyle of Saddam and his ruling clique. For the last ten years the majority of Iraqis have struggled to survive on the meagre rations allowed by the Western powers under the UN’s food-for-oil programme.

Oil will only become an ‘asset for the Iraqi people’ as a nationalised industry run under democratic control. Through state control Saddam squandered the oil wealth. Privatisation, with takeover by US and other foreign oil companies, would be a return to the most blatant form of neo-colonial exploitation. Oil should be used as the foundation for the planned development of the whole economy under the democratic ownership and control of the Iraqi people. That is the only way in which energy will become (in Blair’s words at his Azores summit with Bush and Aznar) a "national asset of and for the Iraqi people".

Editorial from Socialism Today, journal of the Socialist Party, CWI England and Wales

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April 2003