Iraq: Withdraw the troops

There is justifiable revulsion, shared by the socialist, at the videoed public beheading of Ken Bigley. However, Ken Bigley’s brother, Paul, was right when he said that "Blair has blood on his hands".

Tony Blair and Jack Straw belatedly attempted to negotiate with the kidnappers, but the fact remains that the war promoted by Blair and Bush, above all, has created the conditions where barbaric acts of this kind can be perpetrated.

Moreover, in Blair’s contrite posture over Ken Bigley, not a word is uttered about the equally barbaric treatment of ordinary Iraqi people by US and British forces. Samarra was pounded with hundreds killed, amongst them at least two dozen women, children and old men. A day later, 26 Iraqis lost their lives in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul.

Now the report by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) has given a "definitive" (Guardian) and "final judgment" (Independent, 7 October) that has irrefutably proved that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD), that Saddam Hussein was less of a threat in 2003 than 1998, and that Bush and Blair’s case for war is demolished.

Unbelievably, Bush, Blair and the hapless Straw – in true Monty Python fashion – are still trying to prove that there is life in the pro-war case. Why? Because the ISG says that Saddam had future "intentions" to obtain WMD. But the war was fought on the prospectus not of "intentions" but on Saddam’s possession and capability to unleash WMD. This is why Blair and Bush deemed his regime as an ’immediate and present danger’.

Case for war demolished

BRICK BY brick the government’s case for war has been demolished. The war was fought on the basis of a lie. Reg Keys, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, spoke for the majority of the British people when he said: "My son was told he was going off to fight a country that was threatening to use WMD. Now we know he was lied to. That has been affirmed and reaffirmed by this report." (Guardian, 7 October)

In recent polls, 70% of British people favour the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. All foreign occupying troops should withdraw and allow the Iraqi people to decide their own fate. According to Patrick Cockburn, the well-informed Independent reporter, a poll conducted by the US Provisional Authority itself, showed that only 2% of Iraqi Arabs support the occupation. (Independent, 5 October)

Despite this, Bush and Blair, or whoever replaces them, will not withdraw easily from this ’quagmire’. Indeed, they are playing heavily on the spectre of even greater anarchy and the disintegration of Iraq through sectarian and ethnic violence in order to justify their continued presence.

Unless a viable alternative is advanced, their arguments can have an effect on even some of those who were previously implacably opposed to the war. For instance, some of the ’awkward squad’ trade union leaders abandoned their policy of opposition to the occupation after listening to a representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) and the arguments of the Blair government in favour of continued occupation.

Max Hastings, former editor of the London Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph, consistently opposed the war but now writes: "Simply to quit would be as shocking an act of irresponsibility as was the original invasion without postwar planning. Bloody anarchy may overtake Iraq anyway. It will assuredly do so if coalition troops depart prematurely." (Guardian, 4 October)

Fear of ethnic polarisation

THERE IS undoubtedly a danger that Iraq, on a capitalist basis, could sink into even greater anarchy, including the Balkanisation of the country. In a recent survey, in 17 of Iraq’s 18 ’governorates’, more than two-thirds say that they would vote, even in the undemocratic elections proposed for January 2005.

But more than 50% indicated that "they would not vote for the candidate outside their ethnic, sectarian or linguistic group". (Financial Times, 8 October) Therefore, the danger of a polarisation along sectarian lines, as the experiences of the Balkans and Northern Ireland have clearly demonstrated, is posed in Iraq.

The privileged groupings within all the religious and ethnic communities will fight first and foremost to defend their own positions at the expense of other communities. At the same time, the danger of right-wing political Islam gaining a grip, and thereby reinforcing ethnic and religious division, is great.

The only way to cut across this is by the independent mobilisation of the working class. Not a shred of credibility should be conceded to the idea that the occupation troops are the only bulwark against ’anarchy’. They should all be withdrawn and in their place a multi-ethnic armed militia should be organised drawing in the Shia, Sunni, Kurds and Turkomen.

This should be linked to a class programme including the building of independent workers’ organisations in the factories, and of powerful trade unions linked to the idea of the socialist transformation of Iraq. Working people, trade unionists and young people would not place their trust in the bosses or their representatives in Britain. Why should they do the same anywhere else in the world?

For a socialist alternative

FOREIGN POLICY is a continuation of home policy. The mass anti-war movement at bottom was in opposition to capitalism and imperialism with its innate drive towards war.

We support the withdrawal of all troops but, at the same time, link it to a class and socialist alternative for the peoples of Iraq and of the region. We support the right of the Iraqi people to resist US and British occupation.

But this does not mean that the anti-war movement should give ’uncritical and unconditional’ support to an inchoate ’resistance’ – made up of many organisations, some of which have aims diametrically opposed to the working class and labour movement – or to all actions conducted in the name of this ’resistance’.

As socialists and Marxists we support all those actions which genuinely weaken the occupation, and raise the level of understanding and fighting capacity of the working class. We counterpose to the policies of kidnapping and suicide bombings – conducted by small and unrepresentative groups acting ’on behalf of the Iraqi people’ – the policies of mass resistance by the working class and the small farmers of Iraq.

We fight for ethnically mixed workers’ and farmers’ militia, organised and controlled on a democratic basis; for action committees of the workers of all ethnic groups and secular forces; for the building of factory committees and an organised trade union movement of the workers of Iraq; for everyone to receive full maintenance on a living wage (there is at least 40% unemployment in Iraq today); for a democratic socialist federation, if that is the wish of the Iraqi people; for the building of a mass workers’ party with the vision of socialism as the only way out for the peoples of Iraq and the region.

Editorial from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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October 2004