Iraq: One year on

March 20th marks the first anniversary of the US led imperialist war on Iraq.

Despite the fall of the hated dictator, Saddam Hussein, quality of life has plummeted for the majority of Iraqis. Lawlessness grips the land. Young people face a life of grinding poverty and unemployment. Social infrastructure is in tatters and with no sign of real improvement. And now fears of ethnic and religious conflict, possibly leading to civil war, abound.

The world wide repercussions of the Iraq War continue. Only last week, a political earthquake took place in Spain. The right wing Popular Party (PP) government paid for its cynical manipulation of the Madrid bombings – attempting to blame the Basque separatist group ETA for the atrocities, while all evidence points to responsibility lying with an Islamic terror group – with the working class of Spain ousting the party from office in last Sunday’s general elections. A CWI statement on the Spanish events and their global repercussions will be produced this week. However, it is important to note here that the political mass movement in Spain against the ex-ruling party of Jose Maria Aznar also dealt a serious blow to Bush, Blair, Berlusconi and other pro-war governments and, indeed, to the plans and aims of imperialism in the Middle East. The shock victory of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), sent governments throughout the world reeling, especially those most closely associated with the imperialist war. PSOE won 42% of the vote, to the PP’s 38%. PSOE won an extra 2.8 million votes compared to the last elections in 2000, with young people turning out in large numbers. This extraordinary result shows the deep anger of the Spanish people over the Iraq War and the lies and propaganda surrounding it.

The pledge by the new Spanish Prime Minister to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq unless the UN takes over command of the coalition forces is a serious problem for Bush. In purely military terms, the Spanish forces are small. But in political terms the new Spanish government’s position on Iraq is dynamite. It further undermines the ‘legitimacy’ of the Iraq War and occupation and threatens to start unravelling the ‘coalition’ in Iraq. After Spain, what other coalition country will be next to start threatening to withdraw its forces from the political quagmire of Iraq?

As a result of the chaos and misery in Iraq there is huge anger and a deafening clamour for an end to imperialist occupation. This is most deeply felt in the mainly Sunni central belt of the country. But increasing in the Shia-dominated south, the sentiment is that the US and British imperialism are responsible for all the tribulations faced by Iraqis and the occupiers must leave.

Asmaa Ubeid, a resident of Baghdad, summed up the feelings of millions of Iraqis towards the occupation, commenting, “I do not forget that there were many bad things about the old regime and that it committed many crimes. But these people came in the name of changing things. So far they have not proved they are any better than Saddam Hussein. We are living under the same circumstances and under the same suffering. It is as if they came here for an old revenge against the Iraqi people” (Observer, London, 7 March 2004).

Imperialist wars always lead to atrocities. But often one example of carnage comes to signify the horror of a particular conflict. In the Vietnam War it was the massacre at My Lai in March 1968. In Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, it was the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians by the fascist Christian Phalange militias in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982.

And in Iraq perhaps it will prove to be the suicide bomb attacks against Shias commemorating their most holy of holy days, Ashoura, in Kerbala and Baghdad in early March. Designed to set Shia against Sunni, this was a monstrous act of violence. The attacks were planned so that worshippers fleeing the first blast would be caught in second. Across the globe, there was horror that US imperialism’s latest adventure, promising ‘peace, democracy and an end to dictatorship’, could lead to such bloodshed.

Events like the Madrid bombings and the Ashoura massacres form the background to the mass demonstrations by anti-war activists, trade unionists, and socialists across the globe on 20 March, as they show their opposition to US imperialism’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. It will add to the fervent wish that the chaos and violence in Iraq should end as soon as possible.

While we live in a world characterised by instability and violence – a result at base of capitalist super-exploitation and globalisation – millions of workers and young people have moved into action over the last thirteen months to stop the slide into war and bloodshed.

Bush and Blair desperate

As a result of anti-war and anti-occupation movement (which reflect a much wider discontent on social and economic issues) and the general feeling that the US and British governments lied in order to get agreement for the invasion, and ever since to justify the war, the whole tone of the warmongers Bush and Blair has changed since the “victorious” invasion of Iraq and the announcement of the “end of hostilities”. The fall of the Aznar government, which used the same pretexts for supporting the war, and then lied over the Madrid bombings, will have concentrated the minds of the British and US governments. If the working people of Spain threw out the PP for pro-war position and its lies, can the same happen to them?

Both Bush and Blair are desperate to “hand over” power to a new Iraqi government by June 30. Bush and Blair face major threats to their positions. Behind the scenes, they are pleading and pressurising other countries and the United Nations to become involved in the Iraq quagmire, to provide imperialism with a smokescreen. But every proposal or step forward for the occupiers, always portrayed as a “victory”, turns into its opposite within days, if not hours.

The most recent example was the announcement of agreement on the ‘Transitional Administrative Law’ (TAL), in effect an interim constitution, by the US-stooge Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) on 1 March. This will be the basis on which Iraq is ruled until a permanent constitution comes into being after planned elections later this year or early next year. Undoubtedly, the announcement of the new ‘interim constitution’ was timed to occur just before Ashoura-day commemorations and in so-doing divert attention away from a graphic demonstration of Shia strength in Iraq. The jubilation expressed by representatives of the US-Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was soon snuffed out by the massacre on Ashoura.

Despite claims that the agreement represents a massive step forward to ‘Iraqi self-rule’, even cursory study shows that the new law attempts to paper over massive contradictions between the parties on the IGC representing different ethnic and religious sections of Iraq’s population. “They have put off every big issue for a later date when one assumes the US will no longer be ringmaster”, explained one Iraqi expert in response to the agreement (Guardian, London, 9 March 2004). These contradictions will burst onto the political scene over the next few months.

CPA officials are quite aware of these contradictions. Publicly they can portray their actions as showing their ability to compromise and bring everyone “on board”. However, once power has been “handed over”, US imperialism intends to employ the contradictory checks and balances contained in the interim constitution as a way of imposing its will. Plans are already laid for installing a new US embassy in the headquarters of the CPA. This embassy will have at least 160 staff, which will make it the biggest US diplomatic mission in the world. Undoubtedly, US imperialism intends to use this embassy as the co-ordinating centre for their unfolding plans for more direct domination of the entire Middle East and its oil reserves.

Paul Bremer, head of the CPA, faced the contending demands of Shia groups for an Islamic centralised state and Kurdish demands for enhanced autonomy and a secular state. Undoubtedly, US representatives used huge pressure and threats to ensure agreement was reached. This is because, as far as the Bush administration is concerned, the June 30 hand-over date is “set in stone”; determined by the vital need to present a fiction of progress in Iraq in the run-up to the US Presidential campaign. Even the leaders of the CPA have become thoroughly demoralised by the whole exercise. One CPA official explained: “Bremer just wants to get the hell out of here” (The Times, London, 25 February 2004).


Kurdish groups on the IGC mounted a campaign during negotiations to keep the same levels of autonomy they have had in northern Iraq since implementation of the UN inspired no-fly zones, following the first Gulf War. They demanded a Kurdish autonomous region with full control of its resources, including the oil-rich but ethnically diverse city of Kirkuk. This would have put the massive oil wealth of Kirkuk in the hands of the Kurdish political elite, something that is opposed by all the political parties representing other ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. Shia groups demanded that the structure of Iraq should remain based on the eighteen ‘governates’ which have existed since the time of Britain’s occupation of the country after World War I.

As a result, the compromise proposed by the CPA was that ‘governates’ would remain but that any three of them had the right to group together in a self-rule unit. Bremer also made another concession in recognition of the armed support given by Kurdish fighters to the ‘coalition’ forces during the invasion. He allowed the two Kurdish parties (the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP)) to keep their armed militia, the Peshmerga, as part of the Iraqi National Guard under nominal control of the central government in Baghdad. However, having made this concession, it will be difficult for Bremer to enforce the disarming of the Shia militias, a demand he made recently.

However, US imperialism blocked any attempt to include Kirkuk and the surrounding oil fields under Kurdish rule in the new dispensation. This would have led to an extremely strong reaction from the Turkish military, who previously threatened to invade Iraq if there were any moves to independence, fearing separatist tendencies within the Kurdish population living in Turkey. The ‘carrot’ given to Kurdish parties in compensation was to allow any ‘self-rule’ unit to raise money independently from foreign sponsors, such as banks and Non-Governmental Organisations.

Placating Kurdish parties was not the only problem facing the CPA. Shia representatives, particularly those linked to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and its spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, demanded a more centralised state in which the Islamic Sharia was the fundamental basis for all law. Negotiations on Sharia and its relation to new Iraqi laws consumed one quarter of all time taken for the negotiations.

The interim constitution stipulates that the country’s religion will be Islam and that Sharia law will be one of the sources on which law is based – as opposed to “the fundamental source” which Shia groups demanded. In a further concession to the Shia parties the new agreement also states that no laws will be passed which are in contradiction with Islam. In a compromise for secular parties, as well as recognising Sharia, a new human rights law will be promulgated to act alongside the interim constitution. The fact that a human rights law would be in contradiction with some more conservative interpretations of Islamic law was ignored by all present.

Even the United Nations came out against US plans for local ‘caucuses’ to select an assembly to choose a national transitional government. Now the US State Department plans either to expand the membership of the IGC or to organise a national gathering of 200 ‘respected’ individuals to nominate a new government. Either of these charades of democracy will involve US imperialism choosing a new government for Iraq.

Despite the CPA’s claim to want a democratic Iraq, in which women’s rights are respected, the body backtracked on the demand that 40% of the seats in a future national assembly should be set aside for women. In the process of horse-trading behind closed doors they reduced this figure to 25%. As Nesreen Berwari, Minister of Municipalities in the GC, wryly commented, “Paul Bremer believes that the role of women in Iraq is an Iraqi issue. He does not want to interfere.” (Financial Times, 27 February 2004)

But it was the clauses in the new law which govern the adoption of a new constitution following elections that have caused the most discontent since formal agreement was reached. A ceremony organised for the official signing of the interim constitution had to be delayed because five Shia members of the IGC initially refused to do so despite having agreed to the law just a few days before.

The new law states that a new constitution has to be ratified by referendum. However, Shia members subsequently objected to the clause which stated that if any three governates rejected the constitution by a two-thirds majority, then the constitution was blocked. This led to complaints that Kurdish or Sunni Iraqis could effectively block a majority decision.

Nevertheless, it was clear that the interim constitution would be signed. Failure could not be considered at this late stage since all the parties involved had too much to lose; a major political crisis could result in Iraq, the US and Britain, since it would put in doubt the deadline for the CPA ‘handing over’ power to a new Iraqi government.

Political realignments

The rows over the interim constitution indicate some of the political realignments that are beginning to take shape. Many commentators believe this process will see a Shia-majority government for the first time in Iraq’s history. Chalabi, a corrupt and leading figure in the exile Iraqi National Congress, and also the favoured son of the Pentagon, was one of those who refused to attend the signing ceremony. Over recent weeks, Chalabi drew closer to Sistani, by supporting him on issues to do with the constitution, as well as on the demand for direct elections to choose the government after the US ‘hand over’ at the beginning of July. This goes hand-in-hand with a general wooing of the Shia parties by the CPA and the IGC. For example, in the run-up to Ashoura Day commemorations, traditional black Shia flags were hung on the outside of official buildings, something that has never happened before in Iraq’s history.

This reflects the opportunist recognition by the occupation forces of the political weight some Shia parties may have in Iraq. Buoyed up by this attention from the imperialist occupiers, the Shia leaders have adopted a careful tactical approach to the interim constitution and to participation in the IGC. Whilst parties like SCIRI, and individuals like al-Sistani, continue with their sharp anti-US rhetoric, they are careful to limit the extent of public protests. The main Shia parties have their eyes on power and the prestige and wealth that come with it. On the surface, parties like SCIRI made important concessions during negotiations. However, leaders of these parties believe that they will be the majority in any government formed after elections later in the year. As such, they feel they can rescind any decisions or agreements made now during the formulation of a new constitution in the post-election period.

Apart from future designs on positions in a US-backed government, most of the leaders of the Shia parties and the clerics have more immediate reasons for remaining within the political process. One of them is financial. Now all funds collected at Iraq’s holy shrines go into the pockets of the mullahs. Al-Sistani has issued a fatwa allowing them to collect the khums (a tax worth 20% of earnings, which all Shias are supposed to donate to their religious leaders). The fall of Hussein has allowed big business to flourish around the pilgrimage trade. In Kerbala, 300 hotels are being built to accommodate the vast influx of Shia pilgrims. Land prices have increased ten-fold as a result.

However, more ‘radical’ figures, like the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric whose father was killed by Saddam’s regime, are excluded from these money-making enterprises. Al-Sadr has ridiculed the IGC and the Shia parties who participate in it. He has been the most fervent in attacking US imperialism’s occupation and its failure to deliver. His propaganda is directed mainly at winning support amongst the most impoverished sections of the Shia urban poor. Al-Sadr attacks the leaders of parties like SCIRI, who fled Iraq during Hussein’s dictatorship, and represent the business interests of the Shia elite which originated from Iran. Despite his radical rhetoric, however, Al-Sadr’s stands for the reactionary ideas of political Islam. While Al-Sadr has not yet built mass support, it is likely his movement will gain popularity after the undoubted loss of illusions by many Iraqis in the more Establishment-type Shia parties.

Political turmoil

With the prospect of more political turmoil following a “hand over”, CPA officials have desperately talked up increasing oil production in Iraq. US officials claim that present oil production of 2.5 million barrels a day is just below that pumped before the war began. However, most Iraqi workers and young people have seen none of the advantages of oil sales. The money earned goes to fill the ever-increasing black hole of expenditure requirements of the IGC, reconstruction (i.e. over-priced payments to US multinationals like Halliburton, which is linked to the US administration) and ‘reparations payments’ for the first Gulf War.

IGC officials have complained bitterly that they have seen none of the $33 billion promised by Western donors at the Madrid funding conference in October, last year. But, anyway, this figure is far below the $54 billion which the most conservative analysts estimate is required. As an emergency measure the World Bank recently agreed to disburse $500 million in emergency aid at a “funders’” meeting in Dubai. However, World Bank officials were uncharacteristically blunt about their fears over where the money may end up. “We are talking about very huge sums of money. There is a huge danger that these sums will be misallocated, misspent or not dealt with in a transparent way”, explained John Speakman, a senior spokesperson of the Bank. Such directness could probably be partly explained by the fact that Chalabi is the Finance Minister of the IGC. The Jordanian government still has an outstanding conviction against Chalabi for the embezzlement of $300 million from one of the country’s main banks.

Reconstruction of a country, whose infrastructure has been devastated by over ten years of rapacious UN sanctions, as well as a brutal invasion by the world’s military superpower, would be difficult enough, but US imperialism’s efforts are constantly hampered by the growing insurgency in Iraq. More recently, attacks have been directed against so-called ‘softer targets’. These include new recruits to the new Iraqi police force and National Guard. One of the main reasons for this is that the many of occupation forces, especially within the central Sunni belt of the country, have withdrawn to heavily fortified bases within towns and cities, only venturing out when vitally necessary and even then heavily armed.

A massive rotation of US troops is now taking place. One hundred and thirty thousand US armed personnel are leaving Iraq after a year’s duty and are being replaced with 105,000 more. However, over 50% of these will come from the US National Guard – a part-time component of the US army. These soldiers have far less combat experience and many of them have left jobs in the commercial sector to be posted to Iraq. One recruiting officer in the US recently described these soldiers as ‘bullet magnets’, because of their lack of experience. This troop rotation, and the character of their replacements, will not have gone unnoticed by the forces leading the insurgency in Iraq. As a result, attacks on US troops are likely to rise again within the next few weeks.

Massive propaganda drive

In an attempt to undermine the support for the insurgency amongst the Iraqi population, US imperialism has launched a massive propaganda drive to link the resistance with Al Qa’eda in Iraqi popular consciousness, particularly after the Ashoura Day massacre. This propaganda has the added advantage of justifying the US “war on terror” internationally. According to US officials, the bombing was the work of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian linked to Al-Qa’eda. Their “evidence” was a letter purported to have been written by al-Zarqawi to the Al-Qa’eda leadership in which he seeks help in fomenting a sectarian war between Shia and Sunni in Iraq. Most serious Middle Eastern commentators regard the letter as a timely forgery.

The Ashoura Day bombings could well be the work of ex-Ba’athist members, fearing the growing influence of Shia parties in Iraq. The Middle East journalist, Robert Fisk, has written that it may be possible that forces linked to the pro-US parties, and the puppet regime, are responsible for the Ashoura Day massacres. However, the last thing the Bush administration need at the moment in Iraq is more instability. Of course, this is not to say that US imperialism is not capable these types of tactics or would not use them in the future.

Socialists condemn attacks on innocent Iraqis, whether by imperialist forces or by Islamic terrorist groups. It is estimated, conservatively, that 12,000 lives were lost in US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, half of them civilians. Socialists condemn state terror and also the indiscriminate attacks by reactionary Islamic groups, including the terrible atrocities against people in Madrid, Istanbul, Casablanca and Bali. The Islamic fundamentalists may be in collision with imperialist forces – with many of them previously armed and financed by imperialism during the ‘Cold War’ – but they are completely reactionary. They would impose an anti-working class and fundamentalist dictatorship if they came to power.

Whoever was responsible for the Ashoura Day massacres, one thing is clear: the massacre in Kerbala and Baghdad was yet another blow to US and British imperialism’s failed campaign to win the peace in Iraq. Instead of the “democracy” that was promised what exists is a disaster.

Many pro-war journalists in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and afterwards, echoed the arguments of Bush and Blair. They also ridiculed the anti-war movement and the demonstrations that took place. Following the tidal wave of 30 million demonstrating around the world on 15 February 2003, the US and British invasion still went ahead. Some anti-war protesters asked if these arrogant governments would not listen to the biggest single day of protest in human history, what would stop them.

However, it was not just the conceit of Bush and Blair that closed their ears to the resounding calls to halt the march to war. The invasion of Iraq was made in order to pillage the resources of Iraq, particularly its oil wealth, and for strategic reasons. It was meant to fit in with Bush’s “war against terror” propaganda. The invasion of Iraq was the enactment of “pre-emptive strikes” – the new policy of a section of the US ruling class following the 9/11 attacks. But once the decision to go to war had been taken, and the troops were in place, it would have taken a massive movement, involving strikes and general strikes, to force Bush and Blair to withdraw. Unfortunately, despite the verbal opposition of many trade union leaders around the world to the war, the majority of them were unwilling and unable to build such a movement.

But it would be completely wrong to draw the conclusion therefore that the anti-war demonstrations and protests had no effect. They influenced the course of the war and have had a profound effect on world politics since.

Unnamed sources in the US army explained after the invasion took place that plans for the “shock and awe” bombing campaign that Bush had promised had to be limited due to fears of the public outcry that would result. Blair’s desperate attempt to obtain a second UN resolution authorising the invasion was directly related to mass opposition to the war in Britain.

The anti-war protests acted to crystallise and build resistance to the war by giving millions of people concrete evidence that they were not isolated in their opposition to this insane conflict. But the protests also gave confidence to millions of workers and young people that it was possible and necessary to protest against the decisions of the politicians. Clearly the mass movement against the war in Spain, with opinion polls showing over 90% opposed the Iraq War, formed the background to the shocking election results that threw out the pro-war Popular Party.

Wider questions asked

Other important questions were raised. Internationally, a feeling has existed for many years that politicians were corrupt, lying and are completely removed from the problems that the majority of people living in the real world face. The drive to war deepened this perception. Millions felt that the real reasons for conflict were never explained, and doubted, therefore, whether Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) actually existed. They knew that companies linked to US politicians would profit out of the suffering of Iraqis by winning multi-million dollar contracts for rebuilding installations that had just been destroyed by US imperialism. They were enraged that governments who said there was no money for decent pensions, schools, or a publicly funded health system could spend billions on an orgy of destruction.

So the drive to war and the protests against it acted to qualitatively deepen the anti-establishment mood and raised more fundamental questions about the nature of the capitalist system we live under. The result is that now every decision or explanation by US and British imperialism concerning the war and the occupation is automatically regarded with suspicion by large sections, if not the majority, of the population in the US and Britain and in many countries around the world.

This development has dominated post-war events, rather than the triumphalism of Bush and Blair. As a result, the Emperor (Bush) and his assistants (Blair, Berlusconi) are increasingly met with the chant: “You have no clothes”. And now each day seems to bring another issue connected to the war which threatens to shake loose their grip on elected office. The fall of Aznar’s party from government in Spain is a stark warning to any capitalist politician: attempts to ignore the will of the majority – especially on fundamental and important issues – eventually end in disaster.

In the US, despite the initial reaction to the September 11 attacks, there is a growing questioning of the Bush war and the occupation amongst increasing sections of the middle and working class. Notwithstanding, a right-wing media bias, the reality of the situation concerning the war has begun to force its way through a thousand different channels: soldiers writing letters home; recognition of the growing chaos in Iraq; and the failure to find WMD. This takes place against a background of the recent economic downturn in the US, with millions losing jobs, experiencing cuts in government social spending and in living standards. It is all these factors which have contributed to a groundswell of discontent in the US.

Consequently, the announcement by David Kay (leader of the US-appointed International Survey Group set up to find WMD in Iraq) to a US Senate committee that, “We were all wrong”, concerning WMD, brought all the doubts and mistrust of the Bush administration to the surface. This revelation was all the more devastating, because Kay was one of the most ardent supporters of the invasion (and still is), but insists on the administration “coming clean”. Without batting an eyelid, Bush stopped speaking about WMD as the reason for going to war and instead spoke about the existence of “programmes related to WMD”. Kay was characteristically blunt in response to this moving of goal posts: “It’s about confronting and coming clean with the American people, not just slipping a phrase into the ‘State of the Union’ speech. He should say: ‘We were mistaken and I am determined to find out why’” (Guardian, 3 March 2004). The New York Times commented in an editorial that the WMD issue was about a “forbidden weapons programme that amounted to wishful thinking”.

Some more critical US commentators have ridiculed Bush for being even more incoherent than usual since the beginning of this year. The most glaring example of this was in Tim Russert’s NBC ‘Meet the Press’ programme on 8 February where Bush, in a confused and rambling interview, commented: “I know I am getting repetitive”. This is no accident – the administration realises it is in serious trouble as far as the upcoming elections are concerned and the nervousness shows. The change in mood is indicated in the opinion polls. A CBS poll, published on 12 February 2004, put Kerry, the Democrat candidate for President, ahead of Bush by 48% to 43%. Over 50% of those interviewed thought that war in Iraq was not worth the cost and 57% that the WMD claim was “exaggerated to build support for the war” (Middle East International, 20 February 2004).

Would a Kerry victory in the Presidential elections lead to a unilateral withdrawal of US forces under present conditions, as some commentators suggest? This is extremely unlikely. Undoubtedly, a Democratic President would bring about a marked change in the emphasis of foreign policy but not a fundamental one. A Democratic presidency would endeavour to pursue a much more multi-lateral approach to US foreign policy, attempting to get other imperialist powers involved in the occupation, as well as the United Nations. From the point of view of the US ruling class this could be useful in camouflaging the nature of the US occupation further. They would attempt to justify occupation with the claim that Western forces were in Iraq to “sort out the mess” and to prevent civil war, instead of for the selfish interests of imperialism.

UN role?

However, the Bush administration has already been forced to call on the UN to help in the organisation of elections in Iraq because of the unpopularity of its occupation. But following the August 2003 suicide bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq, there is no enthusiasm by the UN to become involved. Kofi Annan recently commented: “Security must be improved, otherwise I risk repeating the experience of August 19” (Times, 25 February 2004).The UN would not play a progressive role in Iraq. The UN is an organisation that is dominated by the big nation states, whose governments, in turn, are dominated by their national ruling class. For over a decade, the UN was responsible for sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of an estimated one million people. The UN runs places like Bosnia and Afghanistan in an autocratic manner, implementing capitalist policies.

A Democrat in the Whitehouse would still act to defend the interests of US imperialism internationally. A turn away from the policy of “pre-emptive” strikes would be conducted, but if fundamental political, economic, or military interests of the US were threatened, military action in other countries, although as a last measure, could not be ruled out. Under the Clinton presidency, war was made on Serbia and missile attacks against supposed Islamic terrorist targets, like the “terrorist base” in Sudan that turned out to be a pharmaceutical factory.

Remarks from leading Democrats on another running sore in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should dispel any ideas that a Kerry Presidency would be fundamentally any more progressive than the present one. Commenting on the security wall being built by the Israeli government, which involves thousands of acres of land being confiscated from Palestinians living on the West Bank, US Senator Hilary Clinton stated: “I think there are very few nations in the world that don’t have fences on their borders. To denounce Israel simply because it wants to defend its people, which is the job of every government, boggles my mind. Don’t we have a fence down on the Mexican border?” (Middle East International, 6 February 2004).

The revelations about the non-existence of WMD have caused even greater problems for the Blair government. This is because of the greater initial opposition to the war in Britain and the fact the weapons issue was the main justification used by the New Labour government for getting support for the invasion. Blair has stepped on a trail of political banana skins, and eventually was forced to make the same U-turn as Bush, admitting that it was unlikely WMD would be discovered. Otherwise Blair risked complete humiliation.

The ‘Hutton Inquiry’ into New Labour’s role in the events leading up to the death of weapon’s inspector David Kelly was a whitewash extraordinaire. It had completely the opposite effect than was intended. This was followed by the decision of the government to drop its legal case against Karen Gun, translator at the GCHQ surveillance headquarters, who publicised a US request to British intelligence services to bug UN representatives of those countries who opposed the Iraq invasion. It was clear that the British government felt that even more embarrassing revelations would be revealed during the trial. On top of this, came the accusation from former Labour minister for International Development, Clare Short, that the US and British intelligence services bugged the offices of Kofi Annan!

Blair is on the defensive concerning his decision to go to war and recently gave a speech to business people where he attempted to give an ideological defence of his decision. Despite attempting to hold out an olive branch to anti-war protesters, he also went on to give a more general exposition of his ideas of “liberal” imperialism. Blair even called for, in effect, the rewriting of “international law” so that pre-emptive strikes could be sanctioned by bodies like the UN!

There is a limit to how long Blair can survive this constant undermining of his position. It is becoming more likely that he will not remain as New Labour leader in the run-up to the forthcoming British general election. The speculation about his future has increased with the recommendation by Denis Healey, a right-wing Labour Party grandee, who originally strongly supported Blair’s party leadership bid when the previous Labour leader, John Smith died, that Blair should now step down as prime minister.

Even if Blair is replaced by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, and Bush is replaced by John Kerry, the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq will continue. In the light of recent developments, many workers and young people internationally fear the development of a Lebanon-type civil war in Iraq in the near future.

Although there are growing tensions between different ethnic and religious sections of Iraqi society, an all-out civil war is not the most likely prospect in the short term. However, reactionary elements in Iraqi society will attempt to foment division in the pursuit of their own ends.

Iraq was an artificial creation of British imperialism, which occupied it after World War I. It was made up of three regions of the former Turkish Ottoman empire: the mainly Shia south, the Sunni dominated centre and the Kurdish north. However, historically the Kurdish north was never really linked politically, economically or socially, to the two other areas which formed part of what was known as Mesopotamia. British imperialism took much longer to ‘pacify’ the Kurdish north than the rest of what became Iraq. Historically the Kurds were betrayed by imperialist powers over their aspiration for a Kurdish state.

Unlike other Arab countries, the nature of the movement against colonial rule was not pan-Arabic but emphasised Iraqi nationalism quite strongly. In the period of the struggle against Turkish and British colonial rule this strengthened the cohesion of the population and developed the idea of an Iraqi nation, although this mood was not so strongly felt in the Kurdish north.

Imperialist divide and rule

However, the divide and rule policies practised under British rule, and particularly the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, increased tensions between different sections of society. Historically there has not been a tendency towards communal clashes between different ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. The Iraqi Communist Party’s (ICP) anti-imperialist and pan-Arab message was popular across ethnic, religious and tribal boundaries. By the late 1950s, the ICP could have led a successful socialist revolution. Tragically, due to the ICP leadership’s wrong policies, the chance was lost and a Ba’ath Party coup in 1963 lead to the murder of many communists. Learning nothing from history, today the ICP is part of the puppet Provisional Authority and supports the sham interim constitution.

The Sunni elite have always ruled Iraq, excluding the Shia majority. The brutal policies of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship – of repression of any dissent amongst the Shias, particularly following the first Gulf war – were perceived by Shias as an attack by the Sunni elite.

Perhaps the biggest danger of ethnic clashes in the short term is in the Kurdish north. Bloody confrontations have already occurred. In the Kurdish area there is a minority Turkoman (Turkic peoples) and Shia Arabs from the South moved there by the Hussein regime in an attempt to change the ethnic balance in the region. There are strong tendencies towards autonomy and independence amongst the Kurdish population. The leaders of the Kurdish PUK and KDP have portrayed the new interim constitution as the first step towards independence. However, when it becomes clear the Kurds will not win genuine self-determination, pressure will build up for a more intransigent position to be taken towards the idea of a centralised state.

In an indication of the possible tensions that may arise in the future, Turkomen demonstrators organised protests in Baghdad and Kirkuk against the granting of autonomy status to the Kurdish areas in the negotiations on the interim constitution. Both the Turkomen and Shia populations in the Kurdish areas fear being ethnically cleansed from their homes. There is evidence that the Peshmerga (Kurdish) militias have encouraged Shias to leave the houses they have occupied for the last one and a half decades. Two thousand Kurdish refugees are living in a camp in Kirkuk’s stadium waiting to take over houses they hope will be vacated by Shia Arabs.

In conditions of extreme poverty, and where oppressed minorities exist, there are opportunities for reactionary organisations to whip up ethnic and religious tensions, which if unchecked can lead to clashes and under certain circumstances, civil war. But this is only possible in a period where the working class has gone through a period of defeats and its organisations are incapable of putting forward a united approach to deal with the problems that the majority or workers and poor peasants face.

So therefore there are other possible prospects in Iraq, apart from that of civil war and a break-up of the country. There have been limited strikes and workers’ struggles in Iraq on the issues of pay and unemployment. However, a national trade union movement with strong roots in all areas has not developed yet, although in urban areas there is still resistance to sliding into ethnic clashes.

With economic difficulties growing by the day, and the continuing suffering caused by imperialism’s occupation, it is vital that the working class and poor farmers build and develop organisations which take up the basic questions of electricity, water and food provision, as well as decent pay, jobs for all, for schools and hospitals and for the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. A campaign around these issues could form the basis of the formation of democratic popular bodies at all levels to take over the running of Iraqi society and to drive out the US occupation forces and the stooge governing council. Stopping ethnic and religious clashes could be dealt with by setting up multi-ethnic militias to protect the security of all, under the control of working people. Socialists support efforts to build independent working class organisations in Iraq and applaud recent movements of the unemployed and for women’s rights. Along with a socialist programme, which includes democratic workers’ control and management of industry and the economy, such an alternative to the bigots and reactionaries would get a huge response from working people.

The convening of a national assembly of democratically elected delegates to vote on the formation of a workers’ and poor farmers’ government would provide the basis to deal with the crushing problems facing Iraq.

However, the only way to guarantee the resources which could provide the basis of solving the pressing social and economic problems, as well as the danger of ethnic or religious conflict, is through the struggle for a federal, socialist Iraq, as part of a socialist federation of the Middle East.

The cwi calls for:

  • The right to assembly and freedom of speech. For the right to organise and to strike. Build a mass democratic trade union movement
  • A massive programme of public sector job creation, jobs for all on a living wage. Share the work with no loss of pay, end unemployment. For the linking of the unemployed workers’ movement with the trade union struggles.
  • Fight privatisation. Fight attacks on jobs.
  • Imperialist forces out of Iraq. No to occupation, no to colonialism. For a mass anti-occupation movement in Iraq and the West. Not another drop of blood – Iraqi, British or American – for imperialist power. Let the Iraqi people decide their own future.
  • No to the imperialist imposed stooge ‘Iraqi Provisional Authority’ and ‘self rule’. For working people to decide their own future. For the immediate convening of a democratically elected constituent assembly, representing the working class, rural poor, and the genuine organisations of the women and youth.
  • The right to self-defence against US and other imperialist forces, thugs and reactionaries. For united, democratic self-defence organisations of the working class. All arms under the control of elected committees of workers in the districts, factories and workplaces.
  • For the right to self-determination of Kurdish people
  • For a united mass working-class struggle! For democratically accountable armed workers’ and peasants’ self-defence organisations
  • For the defeat of imperialism
  • No to ethnic, national and sectarian divisions
  • Nationalise the dominant sectors and companies of the Iraqi economy, including the oil industry. For democratic workers’ control and management based on the unions, the workers, and the poor communities.
  • For a democratic workers’ government, of the urban and rural proletariat, and the poor peasantry.

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March 2004