Iraq after Saddam: The chaos of imperialist occupation

"WE’RE BRINGING order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. …We’re helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people." (George Bush aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, 1 May.)

George Bush and Tony Blair’s ’war of liberation’ has become the nightmare of occupation for Iraqis as the country descends into anarchy, political division and mass poverty. This special feature from The Socialist looks at imperialism’s attempts to extricate itself from this mire. Includes: US rules out a Kurdish state, So where are the weapons of mass destruction?, Reparations cripple Iraq, Religous divisions threaten to fracture Iraq and A socialist programme. CWI online.

The chaos of imperialist occupation

However, in the weeks since the ’cessation of hostilities’ 242 Iraqis (up to 15 May) have been shot dead in the capital, Baghdad. This, despite the presence of thousands of US troops and a nightly curfew.

And to those Iraqi victims of shootings, saving their lives isn’t made any easier by the lack of ambulances, functioning hospitals and the patchy supply of water and electricity.

When Bush says the US will establish democratic government this has a hollow ring to most Iraqis. Plans to form a national assembly and a transitional government by the end of May have been scrapped. According to The Observer (18 May): "Instead, say opposition sources who attended a Friday meeting with Paul Bremer, the Pentagon-appointed civilian administrator in Iraq, US and British diplomats announced they would remain in charge for an undisclosed period."

Not only has Iraq descended into chaos but the emnity between returning exiled Iraqis (like convicted fraudster Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress who is feted by defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and the local Shia movements is increasing.

Wrecking crew

THE ADMINISTRATION of Baghdad – a modern city of five million people – has collapsed and the US occupiers are incapable of restoring order, refuse collection or basic public services, despite appeals for public sector workers to return to work (without pay).

Even many Baghdad cops haven’t been tempted out of hiding by dollar payments. (Although much to their embarrassment, the US occupiers had to sack the newly installed Iraqi police chief because of his association with the former dictator, Saddam Hussein.)

And while the gleaming oil ministry building remains guarded around the clock by US troops, the central telephone exchange (which although bomb damaged was expected to resume functioning in two months) was torched by armed criminal gangs who roam the streets with impunity.

Iraq once boasted a first class healthcare system. But after 12 years of crippling United Nations sanctions, dictatorship and two devastating wars, it has been wrecked. The rebuilding of the country’s healthcare system will been handed over to US companies. Under a privatised system, run by US insurance companies, many poor people will be unable to pay for treatments but instead will probably be dependent on religious charity.

On 13 May the US Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) was forced to sacked the new Iraqi Health minister Ali Shnan al-Janabi after only ten days in the job "because he refused to denounce the Baath Party". Earlier hundreds of Iraqi doctors and nurses demonstrated against Janabi, the ministry’s third-ranking official under Hussein.

Meanwhile the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed an outbreak of cholera in Iraq’s second city, Basra. The 1.3 million residents have been denied clean piped water and have suffered from dire sanitation caused by the war.

To compound Iraqis’ misery further, the United Nations says that the country’s agriculture is on the brink of collapse. Already 60% of the 24.5 million population is dependent upon the UN food-for-oil programme. Now, following the looting of foodstuffs and seeds from government warehouses and the collapse of water pumping stations, millions face malnutrition.

It’s of little wonder then that Barbara Bodine – the person responsible for ’sorting out’ Baghdad – has been recalled to Washington. So too has the hapless chief administrator, retired general Jay Garner; now replaced by Paul Bremer, who will report directly to defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Bremer wants to make restoring law and order his top priority. And without a hint of irony, he noted that 100,000 prisoners were amnestied by Saddam Hussein last year. "It’s time those people were back in jail," he said.

US rules out a Kurdish state

THE TAKING of Kirkuk and Mosul at the end of the war was viewed as a major victory for the Kurds, reclaiming ancient Kurdish cities. Already thousands of refugees are jubilantly returning to their land and homes.

But any illusions in the US as ’liberators’ flies in the face of what has actually been said. The US promised Turkey’s rulers that there would be no declaration of an independent Kurdish state, which it fears in case it re-starts the Kurdish movement within Turkey. The US has even told Turkey they can go into Northern Iraq for ’humanitarian purposes’.

Turkey undoubtedly wants to go across the border but ’humanitarianism’ has little to do with it. They will aim to crush the Kurdish fighters, to prevent any moves to an independent state.

Splits are also likely to develop again between the two main Iraqi Kurdish parties, the KDP and the PUK. The UN protection zone of the last decade opened up an opportunity to establish a stable, democratic autonomous region. Instead, these two pro-capitalist tribal-based parties fought each other and even split the zone in two. They only formed a united government when the prospect of US invasion loomed.

Another source of political instability is the potential conflict between Kurds and Iraqi Arabs. Most of the people who have lived in the Kurdish areas outside the protection zone are not Kurdish. Saddam Hussein had a divisive policy of Arabisation, which, along with reprisals after the 1991 uprising, created more than two million refugees.

Now they are starting to return and Arabs are being displaced. Already within weeks whole villages have been transformed from Arab to Kurdish. Thousands have lost their homes and have nowhere to go.

Potentially hundreds of thousands of refugees could return and relations between the two sides could unfortunately easily degenerate. To complicate matters further, there are also Turkmen, Armenians and other minorities in the region demanding their own rights.

While supporting the right of Kurds to self-determination, the Socialist Party defends the rights of Iraqi Arabs and other minorities, including to self-defence if necessary.

There is no way under US/British occupation or a US-backed regime, which will suck the vast wealth out of the country into the pockets of the oil companies, that this immense problem can be resolved. The US will probably try to nurture a Kurdish elite, and the KDP and PUK leaders are an eager capitalist class in the waiting. But a good living and seats in ’The Authority’ for a few will do nothing for the vast majority.

A united struggle of the working and poor masses to overthrow both imperialism and the rotten regimes of the region could begin a democratic resolution of the different national rights involved. Then this movement could use the wealth of the region as part of a socialist plan to provide decent lives for all.

So where are the weapons of mass destruction?

"I AM absolutely convinced and confident about the case on weapons of mass destruction [WMD]," said Tony Blair, replying to an MP in the House of Commons on 29 April.

Blair continued: "To you and others, who believe somehow that this was all a myth invented by us, …I think you will be eating some of your words."

Perhaps Blair was referring here to his foreign secretary Jack Straw who, on 21 February, justified waging war on Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein’s use of WMDs: "Some of these [Iraqi] weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them." However, by 14 May, (after coalition forces had occupied Iraq) Straw, anticipating the lack of WMD evidence, blithely remarked: "It’s not crucially important" to find such weapons.

Despite thousands of US and British troops occupying Iraq since the end of the military campaign over one month ago, not a test tube of anthrax or VX nerve gas has been discovered. Nor does it seem that WMDs are likely to be unearthed, as the 75th Exploitation Task Force (the US group specifically looking for such weapons), is packing its bags and leaving Iraq in June.

Members of the 75th told the Washington Post that they no longer expected to find such stocks and that the targets identified by the Pentagon were inaccurate.


Reparations cripple Iraq

ALTHOUGH IRAQ is a potentially oil-rich country, its population is being crushed under a mountain of $400 billion ’debt’. Nearly $200 billion is still being sought by Kuwait’s ruling class and Western governments in compensation for the 1991 Gulf War.

On top of this is $127 billion ’debt’ to Western banks and arms manufacturers etc, who helped Saddam in the 1980s fight a war against Iran. This claimed the lives of one million people. And Russia too, once Iraq’s principal backer, is owed $57 billion in unpaid contracts.

The cost of rebuilding the war-torn country isn’t likely to come from the United Nations (UN) whose 12 years of sanctions crippled the economy. Nor will it come from the US and Britain governments, whose bombs destroyed large parts of Iraq’s infrastructure.

Instead, the Bush administration, backed by Tony Blair and Spain’s prime minister Aznar, is pushing the UN security council (dominated by the world’s major powers – US, Britain, France, Russia and China) to lift the sanctions programme and to use Iraq’s oil revenues (administered by the US) to pay for reconstruction.

However, the initial $41 billion estimated cost of reconstruction could, according to some estimates, rocket to $250 billion over the next ten years. Even repairing the country’s much sought after oil industry could cost $3.5 billion.

Fearing that their previous contracts with Saddam to develop various oil fields won’t now be honoured, but will be handed over to Anglo-American oil companies, France, Russia and China have voiced opposition to the US/UK/Spain resolution at the UN.

To placate Russian opposition the US has told the Russian president Vladimir Putin that they’ll get some of their outstanding Iraq debt paid.


Religous divisions threaten to fracture Iraq

"NO, NO America. No, no Saddam. Yes, yes Islam," chanted the crowds of Shia muslim men who turned out in their thousands to greet the return from exile in Iran of the head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq, Aytollah al-Hakim.

The Iranian-backed SCIRI, that wants to immediately establish an Islamic state, has its own militia – the 15,000-strong Badr Brigade – and is one of four Shia Muslim groups vying for control of Iraq.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may outwardly appear complacent at the prospect of secular Iraq becoming an Islamic state. But alarm bells are ringing in fear of an Iranian-style clerical state with an anti-US and anti-Western ideology emerging in Iraq.

As the journalist Fergal Keane has pointed out: "Nobody has any idea of dealing with the looming possibility of an Islamic state. Have democratic elections and you will have a guerrilla war sometime soon. The US troops I have 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?"

Of course, the US backs the rotten and corrupt right-wing monarchy ruling Saudi Arabia, with its extremely conservative branch of Islam. However, the US has had to pull its military bases out of that country and its citizens have been killed at the hands of Islamist terrorists.

In the face of an Islamic national resistance to US occupation, Washington could find it increasingly difficult to maintain its grip on Iraq and its oil fields. Its ’interim government’ of appointed Iraqi ’representatives’ including the Pentagon-backed Iraqi National Congress, Kurdish groups, the Iraqi National Accord and pro-imperialist Shias will inevitably clash with other Shia groups and the minority Sunnis.

A rally of around 20,000 mostly Shi’ite Muslims, protested outside the US sponsored meeting of Iraqi ’representatives’ held near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, underscoring the difficulties facing Washington’s effort to govern the country.

In the absence of any mass socialist or working-class political alternative it’s likely that in any subsequent elections religious parties will dominate, setting Iraq on course for religious and ethnic conflict and the possible fracturing of Iraq itself.

THE US Congress has agreed to fund a paltry $2.5 billion toward reconstruction through USAID, the US government agency responsible for overseeing the rebuilding. It has awarded eight major contracts – all to US companies such as the Bechtel Group.

Bechtel – the US’s largest contractor – has on its board of directors the former secretary of state George Shultz. Shultz is also on the advisory board of the far-right Committee for Liberation of Iraq.

Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburtion, has been given an exclusive catering contract for US personnel in Iraq and a lucrative contract to repair Iraq’s oil fields. US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, once ran Halliburton.


A socialist programme

BUILDING A united resistance to US occupation among the disparate working class communities and the poor peasantry in Iraq requires a workers’ government and a socialist political programme. Such a government would halt privatisation and instead place the nationalised oil industry and the public sector under the democratic control of the workers.

This would allow the proper planning of the economy and the use of oil revenues to meet the economic and social needs of the population, namely; a functioning health care system, free education from primary schooling up to university, clean water, jobs and a massive programme of public works to rebuild the country’s shattered infrastructure.

The Socialist Party and our counterparts internationally within the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), believe that such a future Iraqi society requires the building of a mass socialist movement to unite the country’s workers and poor and to link up with similar movements internationally to fight capitalism and imperialism.

In the past, mass workers’ movements and Communist parties have flourished in the region but were wrecked by their failure to put the overthrow of capitalism at the core of a socialist programme.

By removing the divisive and exploitative rule of imperialism and its local client elites, a socialist Iraq, as part of a socialist federation of Middle East states, could resolve the issues of self-determination of different national groups on a democratic and voluntary basis.

Special feature from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in England and Wales

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May 2003