The war in Iraq is the fourth ‘high-tech’ victory for US imperialism and its ‘allies’ in a little over a decade.
More than in previous wars, however, this war has had a more decisive effect in: (i) underlining the military might of US imperialism, the only hyper-power on the globe; (ii) further changing world relations, initially in favour of imperialism, (although imperialism’s ‘victory’ in Iraq has not had the same effect on consciousness because, no sooner was it ‘over’ then the US faced mass opposition within Iraq); (iii) provoking mass anti-war mobilisations which developed against the background of the anti-capitalist movement which preceded them including in some countries such as Spain and Italy important struggles by the working class; (iv) setting the scene for an even greater aggressive military posture by the US with further conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere flowing from this; (v) effecting a serious breach between the US and Britain on the one side, and their erstwhile European ‘allies’, the more powerful ‘old Europe’ bourgeois powers like France and Germany, on the other, thereby possibly further widening inter-imperialist rivalries, more reminiscent of the period leading up to 1914 than the post-1945 period; (vi) exercising a huge effect on consciousness worldwide, including on the working class, which will be reflected in a contradictory fashion in the next period. In general, however, it opens up a more favourable period for socialists and revolutionaries and, particularly, for the CWI.
In the run-up to and during the war, the long-term, strategic aims of the Republican Party right, gathered around the Bush junta, were outlined by the CWI. In our Congress world relations document, we had already traced out the intentions of this group, to find a pretext for attacking Iraq. It was subsequently confirmed, however, that their plans for overthrowing Saddam go back more than ten years to the period immediately before and after the last Gulf war. This was followed up in the mid-1990s with the Perle-Rumsfeld group pressing the Clinton regime to prepare the ground for a military assault on Iraq.
Because Bush and the neo-conservative right were set on going to war, should we have therefore concluded that the IS should have internally and publicly adopted the position that everything was predetermined, that war was ‘inevitable’? To have adopted such a position would have been a mistake. We opposed a schematic, rigid approach towards the issue of the world economy and to the Gulf War in 1991.
In this war, while consistently stating that war was likely we, nevertheless, pointed out the obstacles and pitfalls ‘on the road to war’ for the Bush administration. We were not alone in this, as the majority of the US ‘joint chiefs of staff’ expressed scepticism and even complete opposition in some instances. Known right-wing Republicans, like Brent Scowcroft – who served in George Bush senior’s cabinet in the early 1990s – and even ‘Pappy’ Bush himself, all expressed doubts bordering on opposition to an invasion of Iraq. Bush, however, created ‘facts on the ground’, pouring in 100,000-150,000 combat troops in order to create an unstoppable momentum towards war. The main motivation for war – oil – was then subordinated to the question of the prestige of the US ruling class as world capitalism’s policeman. Only then did the bourgeois opposition, particularly in the Republicans’ ‘old guard’, to Bush subside and the ‘train of war’ appear unstoppable.
Mighty anti-war movement
Even then, a mighty anti-war mass movement – 30 million people, let us remember, marched on 15 February in the biggest one-day action against war in history – shook the pro-war camp, particularly in Britain. Its repercussions almost led to the downfall of Blair and the majority of his cabinet. Even then, as Rumsfeld blurted out at the time, the US would have continued to press for war. We pointed out then and previously that, when the fundamental interests of the bourgeoisie are at stake, not even a mass anti-war movement can deflect them from preparations for war. Only mass working-class action, a general strike and the threat of revolution could result in a pause or even a postponement of a war. This was certainly the case in this war, with the vital economic and strategic interests of US imperialism at stake. In other words, the assessment of the prospect for immediate war, particularly of its timing, does not arise from a rigid schema but from the struggles of living forces, which can change at each stage.
Preparations for war
Only when the Bush junta cheated its way to power in the last presidential elections, did the Republican right wing have the instrument to pursue its long-term strategy. The pretext for realising this long-term military/strategic goal was provided by 11 September. Franklin D. Roosevelt manoeuvred Japanese imperialism into the attack on Pearl Harbor (by cutting off its oil supplies), thereby providing the excuse for US imperialism to involve itself in the Second World War. So, also, the US, by threatening to attack al-Qa’ida, laid the basis for the latter’s ‘pre-emptive’ attack on the Twin Towers. The US government and its agencies were expecting such an attack without anticipating its precise form.
It has now been revealed that soon after the attack on the Twin Towers, Bush, Rumsfeld and Co wished to link this directly with Iraq and urged Bush to launch an immediate war against Saddam. It seems Bush was dissuaded from this course by Blair, who has assumed the role of a ‘consigliore’ to Bush, ‘the Don’. "First Afghanistan, then Iraq," urged Blair.
An immediate ‘war aim’ – the real one rather than the ‘official’ reason given for the ‘liberation’ of Iraq from weapons of mass destruction – has been realised. That was the ‘securing’ of oil resources in Iraq, with its known oil reserves second only to Saudi Arabia. The victory against Saddam has also opened up the possibility of important strategic bases being established in Iraq. Within days of the war starting, Tommy Franks, overall commander of the ‘allied’ forces, boasted that the US-led forces had achieved their ‘strategic objectives’ in the south by ‘securing’ the Rumaila oil fields! Moreover, in the vacuum created in the north of Iraq with the evacuation of Saddam’s forces, the US deployed 200 troops in Mosul city itself while 2,000 were used to establish a firm grip on the nearby oil fields. In Baghdad, the oil ministry was protected immediately US forces were in control of the city while the very same forces stood idly by as widespread looting, including hospitals, and the desecration and destruction of priceless archaeological and artistic treasures, the heritage not just of Iraq but of humankind as a whole, took place.
Rumsfeld’s description of this looting as being perpetrated by a handful of people ‘liberating’ a few ‘vases’ cut no ice with Baghdadis who have compared it to the sacking of the city in the thirteenth century by the forces of the descendants of Genghis Khan! More modestly, European observers have called it the greatest cultural disaster of the last 500 years. This mass kleptomania arose in the power vacuum resulting from the collapse of the Saddam regime and also from the excruciating poverty of the Iraqi masses. At the same time, it also reflects the lack of consciousness of a people who have been kept in the dirt for decades, particularly when compared to the actions of the Russian workers, described by John Reed in Ten Days that Shook the World. They stormed the Winter Palace but were restrained from looting by the cry that ‘this is the people’s property now’. The real looting of Iraq will come from the oil and other wealth of the Iraqi people being siphoned off in the aftermath of the war and occupation.
The statements of Blair and other spokespersons for imperialism that the oil is "the property of the Iraqi people", which would be benevolently held in ‘trust’ for them by the conquerors, was mere propaganda aimed at deflecting pre-war criticism that the invasion was a ‘war for oil’. This has now been made brutally clear in the resolution submitted to the UN calling for the ending of sanctions against Iraq. Gone are the promises that the "UN will be fully involved". Instead, in terms worthy of George Orwell’s 1984, an "authority" will be established controlled primarily by the US and Britain, masked by the presence of a few Iraqi stooges of imperialism. Behind them are the US construction forces greedily dividing up the pie between them while throwing a few bones to the British and a few others. One Iraqi commented: "This is very, very bad. We are in the same situation as we were with Saddam. They stole the oil money from the people and we got nothing and now the Americans and British are doing exactly the same. We are not going to see any benefit from it." [The Independent, London, 10/5/03.]
Outcome of the war
The outcome of the war was foreseeable and was foreseen in its main outlines by the CWI amongst others. The length of the war, determined by US military strategy, and the degree of Iraqi resistance could not, however, be fully anticipated before the war itself. Given the military triumph of US imperialism, the Rumsfeld doctrine – the deployment of ‘leaner, more rapid, military forces’ – appears to have been vindicated over the use of ‘overwhelming military force’, as enunciated by Powell and some former sections of the military high command. But this was a high-risk military strategy, involving the stretching of supply lines, making US forces vulnerable to guerrilla-style attacks, as witnessed in Nasiriyah, Najaf, as well as in Basra.
This raised the possibility of a setback, particularly in terms of the ‘timeline’ of a projected war. Originally, the war strategy of the ‘coalition’ projected the bypassing of important population centres, particularly in the south. This was linked to an expected ‘uprising’ of the Shia population in the south against Saddam’s forces, along the lines of the failed 1992 rebellion. However, the Shia population was not about to oblige the US once more by placing themselves in the firing line or by acting as the shock troops for an invading army. This led to the resistance in Basra by forces loyal to Saddam, particularly the ‘Fedayeen’, parts of the army and the Ba’ath militia, and the appearance of a lengthy struggle. A similar resistance movement initially took place in Nasiriyah and Najaf. This seemed to indicate the possibility for many bourgeois military and political commentators – including, at one stage, ourselves – that the war could be dragged out over a longer period than originally envisaged by the US. As it happens, the war unfolded over a period of 21 days rather than the seven envisaged by Rumsfeld, three times longer than the ‘whirlwind’ victory projected by the US.
Nevertheless, the US did secure a victory in a relatively short time, with few ‘coalition’ victims. Before the war, and in its early stages, it was not possible to gauge which would predominate in the consciousness of the Iraqi people: hatred of a massively unpopular dictatorship or Iraqi nationalism which, in turn, could lead to stubborn resistance to the US-led occupying forces. Events demonstrated that Saddam rested on a very narrow base, composed largely of the Fedayeen and the elements of the Ba’ath who were prepared to fight. Even the Republican Guard largely folded under the weight of overwhelming and ferocious bombing and shelling and the refusal of officers and men to sacrifice their lives in favour of a doomed regime. In Republican Guard divisions posted on the outskirts of Baghdad, some officers were reported to have discussed with the troops, decided that a military struggle was futile and advised the ranks to catch a bus home to their families!
The relative ease with which the US-led forces entered and controlled Baghdad was largely as a result of the passivity of the masses, the refusal to fight for Saddam, and the wish that the whole nightmare would be over as soon as possible, rather than support or a welcoming attitude for the occupying forces. The latter had been led to believe by Iraqi exiles such as Chalabi, reinforced by Rumsfeld, that US troops would be met by cheering crowds showering them with rose petals and garlands. In a widely publicised and symbolic act, subsequently discovered to have been orchestrated by Pentagon chiefs in the US, Saddam’s statue was toppled by US troops, conjuring up visions of a repetition of the collapse of the Berlin wall and of the mass enthusiasm which this generated. At the same time as this action was taking place it again emerged later that Saddam was walking about and being greeted in a square five miles to the north in Baghdad itself.
If the war itself was ‘fast-forwarded’ then so has been the Iraqi reaction to it. Within a day, Robert Fisk, the noted correspondent on the Middle East and this war of The Independent, commented: "America’s war of liberation is over. Iraq’s war of liberation from the Americans is about to begin. In other words, the real and frightening story starts now." [17/4/03.] So sure were Rumsfeld and Co that they would be greeted in the manner that ‘allied’ troops allegedly were in Paris in 1944 that they made no real plans to effectively administer the country. The chaos, water shortages, looting and general disintegration of Iraq, compounded by the massive bombing and shelling campaign, have reinforced the intense opposition to the US as an occupying force. There are widespread comments, even in the bourgeois press, of the ‘inept’ character of this occupation which sees troops standing by while widespread looting, robberies and intimidation unfold. The Iraqi middle class in particular, who were supposed to be the most welcoming section of society, a firm social basis for a new regime, have become embittered by the post-Saddam situation.
But the real frisson of fear and concern which has shaken bourgeois strategists, both in the US and Europe, is the explosion of anger as the masses have poured onto the arena in mass demonstrations that have convulsed Iraq. There are many examples in history of where an invasion and victory by a foreign power can then trigger an uprising or revolution (the Paris Commune, which was obviously different in its class character from what is unfolding in Iraq today, was prompted by the defeat of the French army at the hands of German invaders in 1871). They can be like an ‘accidental’ obstetrician’s forceps, delivering a ‘baby’ which the bourgeoisie does not want. The uprising of the Shia, in particular, constituting 60-65% of the Iraqi population, has contained in it, under the camouflage of religion, elements of revolution in the sense of the entry of the formerly inert masses onto the scene. Within days of the overthrow of Saddam, in towns such as Kut, Kerbala, Najaf and Nasiriyah, there were also strong elements of dual power. Not in the classical sense of independent workers’ committees, but rival centres of power some of which are controlled in a top down fashion by the Islamic clerics while others are more independent. But there is, as yet, no authoritative revolutionary party or independent organisations of the working class (together with the confused political consciousness which exists) capable of developing the committees which have sprung up or of linking them regionally and nationally.
Committees around the mosques appear to have been formed in the aforementioned towns and reports have also appeared of committees in some of the northern towns having been established on a secular basis without the involvement of the clergy or the mosques. The same kind of organisation appears to have taken shape in the suburbs of Baghdad where even looted goods have been returned to their owners under instructions and decisions from these committees. (It should be added that the real looting, which will dwarf what has taken place in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Saddam regime, is about to unfold with the takeover of Iraq’s oil, the awarding of contracts to Cheney’s firm, Halliburton, to giant construction companies like Bechtel, etc.)
At the same time, there has been an explosion of political life with myriad parties and organisations formed and others emerging from the underground and exile – from the newly re-emerged Iraqi Communist Party to the different Islamic organisations including the Shia al-Dawa which seems to be the biggest Islamic ‘political party’ at the moment – as a scramble takes place to fill the vacuum left in the wake of Saddam. Trying to grab a share of the power are also the predominantly right-wing Iraqi exiles like Chalabi and his ally, the so-called ‘mayor of Baghdad’, who has now been unceremoniously pushed aside by Garner, the US proconsul.
Explosion of Islam
Amongst the Iraqi people the most significant development has been the explosion of Islam, including ‘political Islam’, amongst the Sunnis but particularly amongst the oppressed Shias. In the first demonstrations in Nasiriyah and Najaf, as well as in Kerbala, the spiritual capital of the Shia, the slogans were, "No to the US occupation, No to Saddam, Yes for Islam", usually accompanied, it is true, with a linked call, "Shias and Sunnis unite for Islam". The pilgrimage to Kerbala – which was suppressed under Saddam – saw an explosion of the Shias. According to some reporters, it numbered up to three million. These demonstrations horrified the bourgeoisie both in US and Britain, the ‘victors’ in this war. Compounding this are the slogans which have been chanted demanding that the "ayatollahs rule".
Inevitably, this has conjured up a vision of Iraq following the same path as Iran in the 1979 Iranian revolution. Undoubtedly, present in Iraq are elements of the Iranian revolution, the seemingly ‘sudden’ outpouring of Islamic sentiment, a tendency of the mullahs and the mosques to rush into the vacuum, and even the creation of popular committees and the involvement of the masses from below. However, in the Iranian revolution, it was not just the Shah but the system which sustained his rule, capitalism and imperialism, which was the target of the masses, who struggled for a ‘Republic of the Poor’. At the same time, the creation of parties and the requisitioning of buildings by completely new political formations also indicate elements of the Portuguese and other revolutions.
However, the events in Iraq are taking place against an entirely different background to the Iranian revolution of 1979, and with a different internal situation in Iraq. In 1979 the existence of strong Stalinist states provided an economic model for regimes breaking, or thinking of breaking, from landlordism and capitalism. The present ‘model’ for Iraq is not the Iranian revolution in 1979 but where it has ended up moving more and more towards western capitalism. As soon as the pro-Islamist demonstrations were taking place, Rumsfeld, the military architect of the US victory, stated bluntly that a state with power in the hands of the ‘Islamic clerics’ would not be tolerated by the US. Unlike Iran in 1979, when the Shah’s army completely disintegrated, a powerful rival military power exists, initially of 300,000 foreign troops. This has now been substantially reduced to 100-150,000 and Rumsfeld has promised to reduce it much further to a force of about 40,000. This would not be able to control a country the size of Iraq. The US and British troops are, it seems, soon to be bolstered by forces from seven other nations, including Poland, who have been asked by the US to take responsibility for one sector. The Polish government indicated they would join the US and Britain but because of domestic opposition it seems they have had second thoughts.
It is true that significant sections of the Iraqi population are now armed, partially because Saddam distributed arms in the immediate period before the invasion, and other Iraqis acquired arms when the army and the Ba’athist forces collapsed. This undoubtedly is a potential rival power and a long-term threat to US imperialism but is not a coherent force, at this stage, capable of immediately evicting the US from the country. The ethnic, religious composition of Iraq differs from Iran as well. The majority of the population is Shia Arab, numbering 60-65% of the population, but there are significant minorities, with 15-20% Sunni Arab, 15-20% Kurds and the rest composed of Turcomen, Assyrians, etc; 2.7% of the population are Christian. Iran, on the other hand, was, at least from a religious point of view, relatively homogenous, with the majority of the population overwhelmingly Shia. Nevertheless, the possibility of a reactionary Shia-dominated, Islamic Iraqi state, allied in some way to Iran, is there in outline.
This was predictable, and was predicted, again by us and by many bourgeois commentators, as the ultimate likely outcome of an invasion. How many times did the phrase ‘winning the war but losing the peace’ feature in countless commentaries before the war took place? The CWI warned that rather than the dream of a ‘democratic’ free market state, favoured by the US neo-conservative right – which would then become a model for the rest of the Middle East – the net result of the war could be a fundamentalist state in Iraq and in other countries in the Middle East.
Already the statements of the conservative Muslim clergy are bitterly hostile to socialism and an independent working-class force. They favour a form of Islamic (Sharia) law. One commented to The Guardian of London: "Ninety-eight percent of the people are Muslims. The Iraqi constitution must not commit to anything that will go against anything in sharia (Islamic law)." Another declared: "The West calls for freedom and then liberty. Islam is not calling for this. Islam rejects such liberty. True liberty is obedience to God and to be liberated from desires." In other words, the Iraqi people having shaken off one dictator must be saddled with other despots in religious garb. At the same time, there is no Shia monolith, no more than there was, or is, in Iran.
The Hawza in Najaf is the leading Shia seminary in Iraq. The leading figure in this is the Ayatollah Saed Ali al-Sistani, a conservative cleric who lost some credibility for never publicly criticising Saddam while the latter was in power. A rival group involves the followers of the former Mohammad al-Sadr, who was killed by Saddam and whose picture adorns many of the Shia areas. The Shia area of Baghdad has been changed, from ‘Saddam City’ to, variously, ‘Revolution City’ or ‘Sadr City’. The followers of Sadr are generally more extreme, in a religious sense, in demanding the strict adherence to sharia, but there is no evidence that they have a different social or political programme to other Shia sects. The third grouping, of Ayatollah Mohammad Bakri al-Hakim, who heads the Iran-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), is not recognised by the two more dominant groups. However, this grouping is well organised and has a private army, the 15,000-strong Badr Brigade. Bakri al-Hakim has now returned to Iraq from Iran and immediately called for the establishment of an Islamic state. At the same time he has warned against "extremism", indicating a turn away from radical fundamentalism. The al-Dawa party, the only one that has formed, at this stage, a distinct party, is the fourth group but also suffers from having been in exile. It is a political ‘offshoot’ of the Sadr grouping set up in the 1950s as a ‘bulwark against secularism’. Iraq, historically, has been the most secularised society in the Arab world.
Even under Saddam, women formally had equal rights with men and had freedom to dress in whatever clothes they chose; there was even a certain laxity in relation to the sale of alcohol, etc. Now, however, the emergence of Islam as a political force, particularly under the dominant Shias, is itself a reflection of the discrediting and failure of previous political creeds – Arab nationalism, the ‘socialism’ of the Ba’ath party, the Stalinist-backed ‘Communist’ parties – together with the intensified impoverishment and national humiliation of the Arabs at the hands of Israel and the US. As in Iran, the mosque became, in effect, the underground organisation of the most oppressed and poorest sections of society. This has allowed the mullahs to establish a grip, at this stage, over perhaps the majority of the population.
Prominent spokesmen for the Hawza, based in Najaf, baldly stated: "I think the right decision is to have an Islamist state. If the US blocks such a state and the people want it, this will lead to lots of trouble with the US." Another journalist, Fergal Keane, who has been consistently right in his analysis of the situation in Iraq up to the beginning of the war and afterwards, has written: "All in all I feel a deep sense of foreboding about Iraq. Nobody has any idea of dealing with the looming possibility of an Islamic state. Have democratic elections and the religious parties will likely win. Have no democratic elections and you will have a guerrilla war sometime soon. The US troops I met wanted badly to go home; many of them were scared of the people in the country. Do they understand at all, or any, of this in Washington?"
The US generals, and the Pentagon strategists, like Rumsfeld, seem impervious to this as they seek to combine the use of force and repression with preparations to establish a stooge regime. The shootings at Basra, at Falluja twice (against unarmed demonstrators wanting an occupied school to be returned to them by US troops), and the killing of demonstrators on two occasions in Mosul are a warning to the Islamist opposition of the type of force that the US is prepared to employ to secure its position in Iraq. At the same time, its representatives will seek to play out and widen the schisms already present amongst the different ethnic and national groupings and particularly amongst the Shias.
The US and British bourgeoisie are capable of reconciling themselves to a form of ‘political Islam’, and even a state constructed on this basis. The Saudi Arabian regime is a right-wing fundamentalist regime, as is the ‘liberated’ regime of Karzai in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Iran that is in the process of emerging today does not constitute the same social threat which it did in 1979. In the last few years, a ferocious struggle has unfolded between the pro-Western wing of the Shia clerics and the section that wishes to maintain the remnants of the oppressive Khomeini state. The majority of the middle class, typified by the student opposition, have shown in mass demonstrations their opposition to looking back to the past. Big sections of the working class also express the same sentiments. Under the Clinton presidency, a modus vivendi was attempted by US imperialism, which continued up to Bush’s infamous speech on the ‘Axis of Evil’, which included Iran.
The model which some sections of the Shia clergy in Iraq wish to emulate is not that of the original Iranian revolution but of where it ended up, as a pro-bourgeois Islamic regime. US imperialism, however, fears that even a right-wing fundamentalist regime would not do its bidding. It would possibly prevent it from controlling Iraq’s oil and establishing military bases in the country. And this, after all, was the main reason why the war was undertaken in the first place by the Bush junta. Therefore, the US has a difficult, if not impossible, job to achieve its aims in Iraq without conjuring up a mass, national resistance of the Iraqi people which it cannot defeat.
It will have to manoeuvre skilfully – a rare commodity amongst the reckless Bush gang – in the rapids of a turbulent Iraqi political situation. Jay Garner, soon after the overthrow of Saddam, convened his ‘big tent’, which seemed to be a somewhat ‘fractured tent’. In the first meeting many groupings, including the CP and al-Dawa, were not invited and others stayed away, but a later meeting involved most of the established groupings. This event and others are indications of the absence of any substantial social forces upon which the US can lean. This has meant, as we predicted, that Garner or his successor would have to lean on elements of the Ba’athist party and of the former state in order to begin to construct a new regime.
Alarmed by the sight of armed local residents and Islamists guarding hospitals, dispensing justice, patrolling parts of the major cities, and given the pretext for doing so by the widespread looting that the US forces turned a blind eye to, the putative US administration has quickly moved to begin to assemble a police force. This is made up, in the main, of the very same Saddam police but with different uniforms. The same process is under way in reconstituting the state, the civil service and, undoubtedly, as a precondition for a withdrawal or partial withdrawal of US forces, the reformation of a ‘safe’ Iraqi army, ‘de-Ba’athised’ of the more entrenched supporters of Saddam, well-known torturers and oppressors.
It is highly unlikely that the demand of the oppositional forces for a process to be carried out in Iraq similar to the limited ‘de-Nazification’ in post-1945 Germany can be implemented in Iraq. To debar all those members of the Ba’ath party – over a million Iraqis – some of whom were compelled to join the party as the price for having a job as a low-grade teacher, civil servant, etc, would mean that the US would have no alternative but to lean on the forces of political Islam which, as we have seen, are seeking to acquire more and more power. Garner, the de facto ruler of Iraq, has announced his hope of setting up an interim administration for the country as early as June. A list of Iraqi ‘leaders’ has been put forward to form an ‘interim government’. These include Ahmad Chalabi, (exiled from Baghdad for 45 years) the leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Others include Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Jalal Talibani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), representatives of the Iraqi National Accord, and those from the SCIRI. Important political forces from both the Shia majority and Sunni minority are excluded. This is an attempt to harness openly pro-bourgeois and pro-imperialist elements in the hope of legitimising an ‘interim administration’.
The very recitation of these names and organisations indicates the fractious future even for this ‘interim’ regime, if it ever takes flight. The US, however, in a desperate attempt to seek legitimacy, must go down this road of trying to form an alternative government in order to deflect the inevitable nationalist resistance to its presence in the country. A fair election would probably give an overwhelming victory to the religious parties, to ensuing civil war between the different national and religious minorities and the break-up of Iraq.
In any case, the state itself was from the outset an artificial creation of British imperialism, binding together three major national groupings, the Kurds in the north, the Sunni Muslims roughly in the centre of Iraq and the Shias dominating in the south. Not just under Saddam, but also when British imperialism ruled the country, as well as under the monarchy, the ruling power rested on the Sunni minority and, particularly, its educated layers who occupied the leading positions in the Iraqi state. On a capitalist basis, particularly given the struggle for scarce and dwindling resources, a nationalist struggle between different national groupings is inevitable. The US does not want to be in the firing line and prefers a buffer in the form of an ‘independent’ government, while it holds the real levers of economic and military power in the country.
Privatisation of oil
The oil industry is already scheduled for privatisation and handing over to foreign firms. This may not take the form of a complete de-nationalisation – which goes against the trend of the 1970s onwards throughout the oil states of the Middle East and elsewhere – but the appointment of a carefully selected ‘management’, half-shares or percentage shares in companies, etc. Retired oil men – the former Shell chief executive and the former Iraqi oil marketing chief – have already been scheduled to head up the ‘advisory board’ to "oversee Iraq’s oil industry until a new government is in place".
The director of planning at Iraq’s oil ministry under Saddam will serve as chief executive of an interim oil industry management team; ‘everything must change so that everything remains the same’, at least as far as the management structure of the oil industry is concerned. At the same time, US ‘head-hunters’ have been scouring the ranks of Iraqi exiles in America and Europe: "About 120 Iraqi exiles in America and Europe, chosen by Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary, are to be grafted onto Iraqi society as advisors to the main ministries. This team, the Iraqi Reconstruction and Redevelopment Council, has been working from US finance offices in Virginia." Real ‘democracy’, proclaimed as one of the goals in the overthrow of Saddam, is postponed into the mists of the future. British defence secretary Geoff Hoon, when asked if future elections will be of the ‘one-person-one-vote variety’, merely declared that they will be "representative". This solicited the comment from one British political commentator, "In other words, Iraqis are to have a Henry Ford election: They can have whatever colour they want so long as it’s black."
The intention undoubtedly on the part of the US is to carry through the complete dismantling of Iraqi state industry and create an open economy. The same privatisation medicine is prescribed for most of Iraq’s state sector as part of the ‘opening up’ of the Iraqi economy to imperialist exploitation. The prospect of this actually being implemented produced near-panic reactions in parts of the British bourgeois press at the social consequences of such steps. Out of a population of 24 million, at least ten million people rely on the state sector for employment. Sixty percent of the Iraqi people are dependent on food aid supplied by the state.
These conditions will be enormously compounded if the economic programme of the US neo-conservative right is implemented in Iraq. Before the war, many historical parallels were drawn as to the character of the post-Saddam regime that the US would preside over. One of these models was the MacArthur regime in post-1945 Japan. The hapless Jay Garner, who within a month of setting foot in Iraq is already scheduled for replacement by a State Department official, is sympathetic to the Rumsfeld neo-conservatives. The programme he is likely to implement is entirely different to MacArthur in 1945. MacArthur, although himself a Republican, acted within the framework of the New Deal’s socially sensitive policies of Roosevelt which dominated US policy at that time. Exactly the opposite policies are pursued by this administration. But, if the US or a US-backed regime was to go down the same disastrous road as in Eastern Europe, dismantling the state sector, ‘letting the market rip’, Iraq will experience the same catastrophic consequences as the ex-Stalinist states, recently highlighted by Joseph Stiglitz, author of ‘Globalisation and it’s discontents’. He comments: "Russia’s GDP remains almost 30% below what it was in 1990. At 4% per annum it will take Russia’s economy another decade to get back to where it was when communism collapsed." (The Guardian, 9 April 2003)
US plans for Iraq
It seems that the US has a planned three-stage process for an Iraqi government. The first, which exists now, is a purely American administration. The second, according to Wolfowitz is described as a "bridge, an interim authority or quasi-government which will gradually take over the day-to-day administration from the Americans". The third ‘with luck’ will be a "permanent and elected Iraqi government". Various ‘timelines’ have been advanced for the dawning of ‘democracy’ in Iraq, from two years according to Blair to five years according to ‘unattributable US sources’. But even if the minimum time of two years is accepted, resistance, probably of an armed character, is likely to develop.
The ‘Lebanonisation’ of Iraq, an analogy which we drew in the pre-war situation for post-war Iraq, is relevant from a number of points of view. When the Israelis intervened in 1982, they were initially met with support from the Shia population who had felt previously oppressed by the Palestinians and welcomed the Israeli Defence Force as ‘liberators’. British troops faced a similar situation in 1969 when the minority Catholic population welcomed them ‘with cups of tea’ as protectors against the onslaught of Unionist police (the B Specials) and Loyalists. The Shias, however, came to see the Israeli army as occupiers and consequently launched an 18-year guerrilla war, eventually forcing their withdrawal. The US also intervened in the Lebanon in 1982 in order to guard the withdrawal of Palestinian fighters from Beirut and then soon afterwards withdrew. After the massacres of Palestinians in Sabra and Chatila, with the connivance of Ariel Sharon, the US once more intervened.
Within a year of Israel’s intervention, backed by the US, Hezbollah had been formed, becoming the most powerful guerrilla force in the Middle East. It adopted the method of suicide bombings, killing 241 American Marines in one engagement, and compelling the US to withdraw its forces. The Shi’ite militias which defeated Israel and forced the withdrawal of the US came from 40% of Lebanon’s three million people. Of the 24 million people in Iraq, 60% are Shias, impoverished, bitterly angry at their treatment under Saddam and massively resentful of the US occupier, the main prop of the hatred Israeli ruling class.
How long a guerrilla war will take to unfold is anybody’s guess. But if an open US military occupation continues even for two years, it is likely to begin. Even a ‘reconstructed’, essentially stooge, Iraqi regime would have no legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of Iraq’s population. It too would be faced with armed resistance. This, moreover, is not likely to be restricted to the Shias but could involve the Ba’athists – shorn of the hated Saddam. They have not completely collapsed, and could rebuild and form an important part of an Arab nationalist resistance to the occupation.
Direct military rule by the US will stoke up the opposition of the Iraqi people and will have repercussions throughout the region. For this reason, while seeking to establish a firm hold on the economic levers of the Iraqi economy, and seeking to maintain military bases in Iraq, the US will withdraw as soon as possible. How soon this will take is impossible to predict and depends on the scale of opposition it meets. Even in Afghanistan, US forces were not fitted to pursuing counter-guerrilla actions, as shown by their retreat from the engagement with al-Qa’ida and the Taliban at Tora Bora. They have been compelled to hand over most of the ‘peacekeeping’ actions to British and other forces. This has not prevented the Taliban and al-Qa’ida forces from maintaining their presence in the country, with recent reports that they have even strengthened their position.
Even the presence of 150,000 foreign troops is not sufficient for an effective occupation, the holding of a whole nation in chains. Half-a-million US troops in Vietnam could not defeat 17 million poverty-stricken South Vietnamese, together with their compatriots in the North. It will take time for armed resistance, including a guerrilla war, to begin and even longer to succeed in evicting the occupiers. We envisaged the possibility of a guerrilla-type nationalist opposition to US forces developing during the war. We were not the only ones who did so. Tariq Aziz speculated on such a possibility. Even the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was unsure of what he confronted and felt compelled to ask the security services to: "Tell me what the picture is: is this Ceausescu in Romania, or is this the Vietcong?" [The Guardian, 26/5/03.] In the end, it was neither.
There has been criticism of us for even considering the possibility of a Vietnam. It is the right, even duty, for comrades to subject our analysis during an important event like war to examination and criticism. An estimation of the situation, particularly during a war, has to be made ‘on the wing’, and may subsequently prove to be mistaken because one of the factors in the situation is subsequently shown to be absent. The only ‘safe’ position is to make no estimation, refuse to analyse a war situation, until after its conclusion when everything is clear! Such an approach is not adopted by serious bourgeois strategists, even though sometimes, many times even, they prove to be mistaken. They make these mistakes even when they possess immeasurably better intelligence, information, sources on the ground, etc, than we do.
Many bourgeois journalists, for instance, invoked the example of ‘Stalingrad’ and ‘Jenin’, as we did at one stage (and, as indicated, Blair was not sure whether or not he faced a ‘Vietnam-type’ situation). This proved to be a mistaken comparison because the Iraqi masses were not prepared to fight for a discredited dictatorship. Can we therefore deduce from this that this was because the ‘national liberation’ forces, which we ‘overestimated’, were weak, incapable of combating the US, or welcomed the US forces as ‘liberators’? It would be wrong to draw such a conclusion.
There was overwhelming opposition to the US and hatred of it in Iraq and throughout the Arab world. The only exception at this stage is in the Kurdish areas where the bourgeois Kurdish leaders have justified their alliance with US imperialism as a protection against Turkish military intervention. However, US imperialism will eventually abandon these Kurdish leaders, if it is in their interests, in favour of Turkey and a puppet regime in Baghdad. The Arab masses did not immediately fight because they were not prepared to perish for a doomed regime. The Iraqi masses’ opposition to the US was shown not in months or weeks but within days of the downfall of Saddam! Paradoxically, the Vietnam example, of a guerrilla war, could unfold now in the post-war, post-Saddam situation.
Moreover, once resistance begins, the alleged ‘justification’ for engaging in the war in the first place will be subjected to severe criticism, particularly if the US and British contention that Iraq possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) proves to be false. Failing to discover these weapons, as was widely predicted beforehand, the US and Britain have now retreated to the fall-back position of arguing that Saddam did possess them but they were ‘destroyed’ just before the war began. One anonymous official in the Bush administration said he would be "amazed if we found weapons-grade plutonium or uranium" and it was unlikely large volumes of biological or chemical material would be discovered. Now there is the breathtaking claim from a ‘senior administration official’ who "insisted the US never expected to find a huge arsenal. He said the US was concerned by Mr Hussein’s team of 1,000 scientists, whom he termed ‘nuclear mujaheddin’. These scientists, he argued, could have restarted the weapons programme once the crisis had passed." If this is criteria for an invasion against a regime – not actually possessing WMD but having the potential to do so – it could be invoked against any number of countries.
In reality, as was widely commented on beforehand, this was a pretext to justify a war the aim of which was to grab Iraq’s oil and reinforce the strategic position of US imperialism. It was allegedly a ‘preventative war’. This indicates that the Bush administration is now prepared to take pre-emptive military action against a country that has "deadly weapons in mass quantities". It suggests that the administration will "act against a hostile regime that has nothing more than the intent and ability to develop such weapons". The different approaches of the US – war on Iraq, but for Korea, ‘diplomatic engagement’ – will convince any regime threatened in this way by the US in the future that it should develop nuclear and biological weapons as soon as possible. Rather than freeing the world of dangerous maniacs armed with nuclear weapons, the opposite will now be the case.
US and North Korea
Despite the bellicose threats of Rumsfeld against North Korea, and Blair’s hint of "future action" against it, at this stage, the US will not invade North Korea. It is not a real threat to the strategic interests of the US in the region and, moreover, it has no ‘strategic resources’, such as oil, as Iraq has, and is completely isolated in global politics. At the same time, however, North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship – its claim, probably true, that it has the capacity to produce at least nuclear warheads and the means of delivering them against its ‘enemies’ – is a seriously destabilising factor both from a security angle and economically in the region and worldwide.
This tussle between the US and North Korea is unfolding in a region comprised of economically developed states, like South Korea, last year one of the ‘best-performing economies’ in the world, Japan and other industrialised countries. The memories of the 1997-98 catastrophic financial crisis and collapse are still fresh. There are fears that an armed clash between the US and North Korea will impact on the financial markets and economies of the region. Already in the first quarter of this year, foreign investment fell by 48% compared with the previous year in South Korea. Capital flight from the region will have a significantly retrogressive effect on the economies in the region. Not least of the concerns is a sudden implosion of North Korea, with an army of refugees moving south. This, in turn, would collapse South Korea and reverberate around the region and worldwide. Almost all the trade between North Korea and the outside world is now conducted in barter or in foreign currencies, including the Chinese renminbi, Japanese yen and the euro. The US dollar was banned by the North Korean regime in March, while the North Korean currency, the won, has plunged in value. Inflation, prompted by price reforms, has taken off with wages rising at much less than the rise in prices.
Faced with these difficulties, North Korea has now offered to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, stop missile exports, and readmit foreign inspectors in return for a US pledge not to attack, the lifting of sanctions and recognition of the North Korean state. This has so far been rejected by the Bush administration, which has refused the North’s offer to sign a formal non-aggression treaty. On North Korea, as with most issues, there is a split between the State Department and the Pentagon. The former believes that a diplomatic solution to the crisis is possible, while the Pentagon, supported by most in the White House, believes that North Korea will not give up its nuclear programme. They therefore favour ‘regime change’ in Pyongyang, this time using economic means rather than military action. This, however, is a risky strategy. Even if it succeeded, it could result in the complete collapse economically of North Korea which would, in turn, be an economic catastrophe for the South. If millions were to move south, this would bankrupt the South Korean regime. This is not a re-run of Germany in 1989 when the collapse of the Berlin Wall led to West German capitalism stepping in, introducing deutschmark parity with the East, etc.
The invasion of Iraq and the triumphalist military posture which US imperialism has subsequently shown will have serious repercussions, resulting in a possible new ‘arms race’. Even Japan, a nation supposed to be ‘anti-nuclear’ since Hiroshima, "may be the next to build a bomb". Faced with the challenge of North Korea and rubbing up against China, Japan has been subjected to pressure to establish a stronger military presence. It already has the world’s fourth-largest defence expenditure and a larger navy than Britain’s. Sections of the Japanese bourgeoisie have been softening up domestic public opinion for the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons. In the past, the idea of Japan acquiring nuclear weapons has been officially raised by the Japanese government. In 1969, a government official report recommended that Japan build nuclear weapons. They did not proceed at that stage, resting under the US nuclear umbrella and against the background of a global non-proliferation and disarmament process. A modern industrial state can quickly acquire resources to develop nuclear weapons. Japan is no exception with its nuclear industry stockpiling more than five tonnes of plutonium, enough for hundreds of weapons. It has also acquired the means of delivering nuclear weapons through a prototype of an intercontinental ballistic missile. However, to go down this road would require great internal shocks to swing public opinion in this direction.
The rise, however, of India and Pakistan as regional nuclear powers, reinforced by the spectre of North Korea and of China coming into military conflict with Japan in the future and, not the least, Bush’s action have all reinforced the pressures for Japan to consider acquiring the nuclear option. This process could be furthered by the actions of the Bush regime, which is now threatening to restart the testing of its own nuclear weapons in order to develop a new generation of bunker-busting bombs and so-called tactical, ‘mini-nukes’. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where such weapons were deployed, have strengthened the hand of the Pentagon in stepping up expenditure and research in this field. Underground testing of a nuclear warhead, however, would have to be conducted 55 metres underground in order to eliminate atmospheric fallout.
All of this means that the mass anti-war peace consciousness and movement, seen spectacularly during the run-up to the Iraq war, will be sustained and even deepened given the increased insecurity now felt by the peoples of the world. The more serious sections of the bourgeoisie, both in the US and internationally, are alarmed by the now proven spurious reasons for the launch of the Iraqi war. They are equally appalled by the consequences of the invasions, and are openly warning Bush of proceeding further down this road. Even Helen Clark, the prime minister of New Zealand and an ally of Blair, has stated that they (Blair and particularly Bush) may live to regret unleashing the "law of the jungle" in "international relations". Anticipating the future emergence of China later this century as the largest economy in the world, with commensurate military clout, she envisages China acting in the same ‘unilateral’ manner that Bush has in Iraq.
Bitterness after the war
Like the European bourgeoisie and Putin in Russia, Clark wishes to contain within the framework of the UN the tensions between the imperialist powers which have been unleashed. She implores: "Who wants to go back to the jungle?" These powers have also demanded that the reconstruction of Iraq, together with its temporary military supervision, be placed under the control of the UN, combined with the return of weapons inspectors. The US has naturally rejected this as Hans Blix and his team would undoubtedly vindicate their warnings before the war that, in effect, Iraq did not possess substantial WMD. Bush has demanded the lifting of sanctions, imposed by the UN, which again has been rejected by the European bourgeoisie and by Russia without UN control in the interim. Putin publicly humiliated Blair in Moscow, declaring in a mocking manner to him: "Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if they ever existed? Perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere in a bunker underground, sitting on cases of weapons of mass destruction and is preparing to blow the whole thing up and bring down the lives of thousands of Iraqi people."
Both Blair and Bush are enormously politically vulnerable on this issue. The bitterness and anger, evident in the unprecedented anti-war mass movement, have risen in the aftermath of the war, although this is not, as yet, reflected in mass demonstrations. If they can sell the idea that Iraq has been stabilised, that the war has eliminated a "clear and present danger", and that the average Iraqi will demonstrably benefit from their actions, they may be able to rationalise the reasons for the war and get away with it temporarily. But that is not at all guaranteed, particularly in the case of Blair, where the issue of ‘misleading’ British public opinion and, above all, the hallowed British ‘Parliament’ will be posed. Brushing aside any domestic opposition, Bush used the Iraq ‘victory’, in particular through his henchmen like Rumsfeld, to turn the attention of the American people once more outwards to other perceived dangerous ‘rogue states’. Syria became almost immediately a focus for accusations for harbouring the fleeing Saddam forces and possessing its own WMD. For a few days, the spectre of a new invasion against Syria was flagged up by Rumsfeld, by Bush himself, and reinforced by ‘warnings’ from the State Department and Powell.
If the US does find it impossible to occupy Iraq effectively with 150,000 troops, there is no prospect, despite the threats of Bush and Co, that this could be repeated in the case of Syria, let alone Iran, the other target of the US administration’s threats. Syria’s population is 17 million, whereas Iran’s is 66 million. It is true that there are some comparisons to be made between Syria and Iraq in the multi-national, ethnic and religious composition of both countries, as well as the political rule of a minority grouping. In the case of Iraq, the Sunnis have effectively dominated under Saddam, in Syria the Alawite sect under the Assad dynasty. Moreover, the late father of Assad pursued a ruthlessly repressive regime, particularly against the Muslim Brotherhood, in putting down the uprisings, for instance, in Hamah, involving a reputed 10,000 victims, stoking up potential opposition to the regime.
Prior to the war against Iraq, Bashar al-Assad had indicted a willingness to open up Syria towards Western capitalism. The belligerent, uncompromising approach of Bush forced Assad, under the pressure of his own population, to verbally back Iraq in this conflict, publicly stating his wish for the defeat of the US and British forces. This did not endear him to the Bush administration. But the post-Saddam threats were not aimed at creating the basis for an immediate military onslaught against the Syrian regime but to exert pressure on Assad to rein in Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian terrorist organisations, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) General Command with offices in Syria. These threats together with the visit of Powell to Damascus have secured a seeming climb-down by Assad. The Palestinian terrorist organisations’ headquarters are to be closed down, which were in any case alleged to have had ‘only political and informational functions’. TV appearances by any of these organisations’ spokespeople have also been stopped. The US is still insisting that Syria gives up any biological and chemical weapons programmes, stops supporting Lebanon’s Hezbollah, withdraws all forces from Lebanon, keeps its border with Iraq sealed, and hands over any Iraqi officials who have crossed. Assad has been "invited to choose between a better relationship with the US … or to face an uncertain future that would include US economic sanctions".
The latter is a serious threat, with important implications for the Syrian economy, now that the supply of cheap Iraqi oil, under the ‘oil-for-food programme’, has now ended with the fall of the Saddam regime. However, the main purpose of this pressure on Syria is to ease the introduction of the US road map for a solution to the Palestine/Israeli issue. A cornerstone of this programme, aiming for the pacificatio
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