It is the US presidential election campaign which is governing US policy half a world away in Iraq.
US public opinion has shifted on Iraq under the impact of revelations of torture being carried out on a huge scale, supported, whether implicitly or explicitly, by Rumsfeld and company. This added to horror which already existed at the siege of Falluja, where more than a thousand people were slaughtered by US forces before those same forces were forced into an inglorious retreat. And now military overstretch has pushed the Republicans to raise the spectre of conscription, even the possible re-introduction of which is guaranteed to provoke massive opposition.
Reeling from these events the director and deputy-director of the CIA have resigned, scapegoats for Bush’s blunders. And the Bush regime is moving might and main to try and create an illusion, in the US if not in Iraq, that the June 30 ‘handover’ is a real step towards peace and democracy for the people of Iraq.
In order to get agreement on a UN resolution on the future of Iraq the US government has in words shifted ground and accepted the description of the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) as "fully sovereign and independent". This concession has a very limited meaning, given that the new Iraqi prime minister, Allawi, has already done what Colin Powell demanded two months ago and ‘given some sovereignty back’ to the US and specifically to 138,000 ‘coalition’ troops who will continue to operate under US command.
The reality is that the IIG are an unelected cabal who have won their places in ‘government’ for only two reasons. First, and most important, because they are willing to prostitute themselves to US imperialism. And secondly, at least in some cases, because they claim to represent social forces that US imperialism needs to have ‘inside the tent’. Allawi has a third quality which is attractive to US imperialism. Responsible for security under the old governing council, he has made it clear he considers himself a ‘strong man’ and undoubtedly would be prepared to use brutal force against the Iraqi people. He has already made plans to try and ‘re-Ba’athify’ the new Iraqi army.
As members of an unelected ‘government’ which is acting as a fig leaf for the brutal imperialist occupation of Iraq, none of the IIG will be able to maintain whatever social base they have. And many of them have virtually no social base. Five of the six leading posts in the government are held by people who have spent most of their lives abroad. The ministers of communications, electricity, and industry and minerals (oil) were all residents of the US until 2003. One still has a job in the US, from which he has taken an indefinite leave of absence to become an Iraqi government minister!
In order to try and give some credence to the illusion that stability is increasing in Iraq under the IIG the US have had to retreat militarily yet again. They dropped their demand for the arrest of anti-US Shia leader Al Sadr and withdrew troops from the Shia holy city of Najaf. But immediately afterwards they revealed in one fell swoop how the US-led occupation will never bring genuine democracy to Iraq but will continue to mean escalating conflict and violence.
No sooner had the members of the IIG agreed to ‘disband’ their militias (which seems to effectively mean that the militias continue but are paid as part of the new Iraqi army) then all those militias that had not ‘disbanded’ were banned. US administrator Paul Bremner, then announced that militia members were banned from holding political office for three years after their militia disbanded. So on the one hand are members of the government who agreed to ‘disband’ their militias yesterday and on the other Al Sadr, who even if his Mahdi army were to disband today cannot contest elections in the next three years! The US had already turned Al Sadr from a leader with relatively little support to an icon of the resistance to US occupation. This latest move can only increase his support and dramatically fuel the flames of what is now a generalised national insurgency of the Iraqi people.
While there will be troughs and peaks in the resistance in Iraq, it is clear that it will continue while ‘coalition’ troops occupy Iraq. Even if at some point they don blue helmets it will not make them acceptable to the majority of Iraqis, particularly given UN responsibility for the sanctions regime.
The dreams of the neo-cons are in tatters. Far from the occupation Iraq giving US imperialism a supply of cheap oil, it has massively increased instability throughout the Middle East, which has already led to the highest oil prices in a decade. If, or rather when, the Saudi regime is overthrown US imperialism faces an oil crisis of nightmare proportions.
And instead of increasing the prestige of US imperialism the occupation of Iraq has undermined and weakened it. The Bush regime is desperate for an exit strategy from Iraq, but one which will maintain its strategic and economic interests in tact. But such a strategy does not exist.
There are no reliable forces in Iraq on which the US can base itself. In classic imperialist fashion it is attempting to lean on, and balance between, the self-appointed leaders of different ethnic and religious groups, but is incapable of meeting the aspirations of any of them. Nothing has been resolved on the constitution of a future Iraq. This is only increasing the possibility of a bloody civil war further down the road.
However, this is not the only possible future for Iraq. In the aftermath of the siege of Falluja Sunni and Shia forces united against the occupation. This shows the potential for a united movement of the Iraqi working-class and poor. Unfortunately, the programme of Al Sadr is in reality opposed to such a united movement, but is instead for the establishment of a right-wing theocratic Islamic state.
Socialists must support the building of workers’ organisations in Iraq that can unite across the religious and ethnic divides, and of democratic multi-ethnic defence forces. Capitalism offers no democratic way out of the nightmare in Iraq. That is why the movement against the occupation should fight for an Iraq-wide government of the workers and urban and rural poor that could introduce break with imperialism and capitalism and introduce a democratic and socialist programme.