"The photos that lost Bush the war". That was how one US commentator referred to the images of torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US troops. Beamed across the globe, these appalling photos have provoked international outrage.
Their impact has been likened to that of the massacre of innocent Vietnamese villagers by US troops at My Lai during the Vietnam War – an horrific incident that dramatically shifted public opinion against the war.
Although not on exactly the same scale, the abuse perpetrated by US troops at Abu Ghraib, Saddam Hussein’s notorious torture prison, cannot be dismissed as the work of "rogue" individuals within the U.S. Army. According to the Red Cross they "amount to a pattern and a broad system".
With the MoD investigating 33 abuse claims, including at least one murder, British forces are also seriously implicated. Amnesty International had detailed reports of abuse back in May last year, months before the Daily Mirror first began publishing photos on their front pages.
Both Bush and US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld have been forced into humiliating public apologies, desperately trying to minimise the damage to their credibility at home and internationally. But the damage has already been done. Even before the release of the torture photos, hatred of US imperialism had reached an unprecedented intensity in the Arab world. In Baghdad, less than 10% of the population had a favourable opinion of the US.
Calls for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq are growing ever louder. One of Bush’s staunchest supporters, Australian prime minister John Howard, is coming under increased pressure, with the opposition Labour Party committed to ’doing a Spain’ if elected and withdrawing Australian forces from Iraq.
In Britain, a majority of the population (55%) want the troops brought home next month. Even a leading neo-conservative in the Bush administration has called for US troops to be brought home more quickly.
Faultlines within the US administration are now ripping wide-open. "Dysfunctional" is how the Financial Times referred to the administration and its policy on Iraq.
Donald Rumsfeld, backed by Bush who said he was "superb", is insisting that he will not be resigning. But by his own admission, even worse images of torture and rape are still to come. Military figures who have opposed his war strategy are queuing up calling for his head to roll.
If he were to stand down before the presidential elections in November it would be an enormous blow to Bush. But, if as seems possible, the furore continues, getting rid of Rumsfeld may seem the only way for Bush to try and draw a line under the whole affair.
It’s no longer possible to talk about a US ’strategy’ in Iraq. "97% disaster" was the verdict of one senior Pentagon official (Observer 9 May). This month, US troop numbers were supposed to be reduced ready for the 30 June ’handover’. Instead, more are being sent and Bush is having to go to Congress to ask for another $25 billion to finance the war – something he vowed he would not do before the November elections. And that is on top of the $160 billion already spent.
Having pledged to "pacify" Falluja, US troops were forced to withdraw (although only after massacring at least 600 people). And now the policy of de-Baathisation (purging the Iraqi armed forces of Saddam’s supporters) has been reversed in Falluja with a former Republican Guard heading a security force in the city.
At the same time, the so-called handover to Iraqi sovereignty is now being seen for what it really is – a total charade. ’Security’, the budget for reconstruction, control of prisoners, will all remain under US control.
Withdraw the troops
Whichever way he turns, Bush, with Blair by his side, is in a no-win situation. Maintaining the occupation comes at a cost – both financially and in terms of the lives of coalition forces and Iraqis. It fuels violence and unrest in Iraq and opposition internationally, including in the US itself. But to withdraw against this background would inflict a major blow to US imperialism’s global prestige.
The Socialist Party, along with our sister organisations in the Committee for a Workers’ International (which are active in 36 countries, including the US) is campaigning for an end to the occupation of Iraq and the immediate withdrawal of all coalition troops.
We support the struggle of Iraqi workers to organise and to unite across ethnic groups and religions to oppose the occupation and to build a socialist alternative to capitalism which, in whatever guise, cannot offer a future to ordinary Iraqis or to working-class people anywhere in the world.
Editorial from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales