Iraqi elections: Debacle facing US and British imperialism

The bloody war in Iraq led by US imperialism worsens every day as the death toll mounts and the country plunges deeper into civil war and ethnic and religious clashes.

Only a few days after the ‘coronation’ of Bush for a second term ‘elections’ are set to take place on 30 January. Yet far from ushering in a new ‘democratic’ and peaceful Iraq as promised by the occupying imperialist powers the pantomime of a ‘democratic process’ is set to deepen the crisis facing the Iraqi people and Bush’s regime in Washington. Workers and young people around the world rightly demonstrated their sympathy and solidarity for the 250,000 or more who were killed by the Asian Tsunami.

But it must not be forgotten that the Iraqi peoples have suffered their own military Tsunami since the invasion of Iraq was unleashed by US and British imperialism. Since the war began over 100,000 Iraqi people have been killed. Hundreds of thousands more have been injured or maimed. Others have suffered now well documented accounts of torture and humiliation in the prisons of the US and British military.

Millions more have been the victims of food and water shortages or joined the flood of refugees driven from their homes and cities. Falluja, a city with a population of 350,000 has been razed to the ground and virtually its entire population driven into refugee camps following a military bombardment which makes the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war in 1937, depicted in Picasso’s celebrated picture named after that Spanish city, mild by comparison.

This human suffering has gone on alongside the economic rape of the country as privatization measures are carried through resulting in a bonanza for construction companies like Halliburton that US Vice President Chaney is directly linked to. The devastation however does not end there. Now we read reports of the despoiling of ancient archeological sites in the city of Babylon in which over 2,000 US troops have been stationed. Archeologists have reported how 2,600 year old street pavements have been crushed by US tanks.

However, the looting and plunder by the imperialist powers has been a debacle for US imperialism. Every day brings news of bigger problems or set backs as they are drawn deeper and deeper into the quagmire. For Bush and Blair a seemingly endless conveyor belt of bad news passes over their desks in the Oval Office and Downing Street. The most important being the continued escalation of violence and the large-scale strengthening of the Iraqi people’s resistance. Last week saw the opening of the trial of British soldiers accused of using brutal methods of torture similar to those used by the US military at Abu Ghraib prison. These revelations follow the US official announcement that the search for weapons of mass destruction has revealed nothing. In another unrealised ‘war objective’ the CIA now reports that far from being a crucial front in the ‘war against terror’ Iraq has become a breeding ground for a ‘new generation of professional terrorists’.

Every day brings new reports and revelations which further undermine support for this war and support for the Bush and Blair governments domestically. Despite the deployment of over 150,000 US troops the occupation forces have failed to take control of the country. The USA has been compelled to agree a further 30,000 more troops to be made available for Iraq on a ‘temporary’ basis – a deployment which is likely to become permanent.

"We are loosing"

As the armed resistance in Iraq has grown the occupation forces have been incapable of crushing it despite the use of brutal means of repression such as those used in Falluja, Mosul or Samarra. Colin Powell when asked by Bush about the progress of the war incredibly admitted: "We are loosing". And that while he would like to see US troops out of Iraq as "quickly as possible" that was "not possible because of the strength of the insurgency" which does not allow the Bush administration to set a timeframe for withdrawal this year. (Financial Times 12 January 2005). Bush who is in denial about the reality of situation in Iraq dismissed Powell from his presence!

There is no serious prospect of a military victory. Analysts like Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Carter’s National Security Adviser have spelled out what will be needed to win a military victory: 500,000 troops, US$500 billion expenditure, a military draft and the introduction of a war time tax! Even then he estimates it would take at least 10 years. Not a very enticing prospect for US imperialism. The Iraq war has provoked the largest anti-war movement in history internationally. This would be even greater if such a policy where attempted and in the USA would trigger a social revolt of the scale which eventually took place against the Vietnam war.

The military impasse and conditions which exist are already undermining the morale and confidence of the US troops. The crisis they face is compounded by the fact that soldiers are compelled to undertake longer tours of duty rather than the six month stint that was used during the Vietnam war. According to recent reports one third of US army personnel in Iraq is comprised of troops from the National Reserve. The commander of the National Reserve, Lt Gen James Helmly, recently wrote a memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff warning that the entire national reserve force of 200,000 was "rapidly degenerating into a broken force" (Daily Telegraph 7/1/05).

The occupation forces now confront a surge in the Iraqi resistance which is now larger than the total number of foreign troops occupying the country. According to General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, director of Iraq’s new intelligence services, the resistance has now grown to over 200,000. Of these an estimated 40,000 are considered "hardcore fighters". It is clear that the growing resistance cannot be crushed militarily. Even in those towns that the US claims to have pacified the forces have simply regrouped and then re-emerged. Three months ago the US claimed that it had fully "pacified" Samarra. On 10 January 2005 the local police chief was shot dead when caught in the cross fire of a gun battle between US troops and guerrilla fighters.

Democratic elections?

The security situation is so bad that in four of Iraq’s provinces (accounting for an estimated 40% of the population), including Baghdad, the elections scheduled for January 30 cannot take place ‘safely’. The estimated 150,000 Iraqis living in Britain or the 234,000 living in the USA will have more opportunity to vote in these ‘democratic elections’ than 40% of the population living in Iraq!

There is a boycott of the election by the overwhelming majority of the Sunni Iraqis, largely concentrated in the central belt of Iraq, which make up about 20% of the population. Even the ‘moderate’ Iraqi Islamic party, the main Sunni Arab faction in post invasion governments has withdrawn from the elections. The Sunni minority, whose elite ruled under Sadam Hussein’s regime, fear that they will now become an oppressed minority under a Shia led government.

The dominant Shia factions are determined to use these ‘elections’ to get their hands on power and establish themselves as the ruling force. Shia leader Sistani, whose list in the elections is the United Arab Alliance, has argued that it is more important to vote than to pray. This is despite the fact that some significant forces such as the Shia leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, have kept a distance from the ‘elections’. He is not running himself in the elections but has not called for a boycott. Several of his aides are running on two separate competing coalition lists.

Under an imperialist army of occupation there can be no genuinely free or democratic elections in Iraq. Because of fear of assassination most candidates standing in the elections have not published their names. So voters will be voting for party lists without knowing who the candidates are! The US appointed Iraqi government has clamped down on ‘dissident’ sections of the press and media and even expelled the more independent Arab network, al-Jazeera from the country. All of which are a pointer to what Bush and his regime mean when they speak about the installation of ‘democratic’ regimes throughout the Arab world. Any government emerging from these elections will have no legitimatcy on an all Iraqi basis and would not offer any alternative to imperialism or capitalism.

Balkanisation of Iraq

Yet US imperialism is determined that the elections go ahead. This is partly for reasons of political prestige and the need to try and gain some political legitimacy for its occupation of Iraq. This will further alienate the Sunni minority. Yet to postpone them will threaten a mass uprising by the Shia people.

US imperialism desperately needs a strategy to expedite its withdrawal from Iraq. Yet the scale of the insurgency and the catastrophe which exists prevents it from finding one in the foreseeable future. The elections themselves, far from resolving the crisis are set to intensify the developing civil war which is already taking place between the Sunni minority and Shia majority. Bush’s promises that the elections will open the way to ‘pacify’ Iraq will rapidly turn to ashes.

The contradiction between the need of US imperialism to find an exit strategy and the military and social catastrophe which exists on the ground is forcing US imperialism to explore other policies to conduct the war. The growing sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni is partly being fostered by the policies of US imperialism. The elections are set to further deepen this division threatening the unfolding of full civil war between Shia and Sunni Iraqis.

The neo-cons around Bush seem to be positively supporting the Balkanization of Iraq and the establishment of a compliant Shia theocratic regime (with most of the oil reserves) alongside a Sunni regime largely based in the central regions of the country. The development of such a policy will have massive consequences throughout the region and internationally. This threat is now posed as a serious possibility. It would provoke further upheaval throughout the Arab world.

The Shia comprise a majority in Iraq but a minority in the rest of the Arab world which is overwhelmingly Sunni. Added to all of this is the possibility of collapse of the regime in Saudi Arabia and the possibility of the coming to power of an even more reactionary, anti-western regime of an al-Qaida character. Some sections of the neo-cons are so crazed at such possibilities that they are prepared to consider attempting a military intervention into Saudi Arabia. Imperialism is massively overstretched in Iraq. How will it be possible for them to pursue such a policy in Saudi Arabia or other countries? Such a strategy is certain to provoke further conflict and crisis in the region.

Even the prospect of the Balkanisation of Iraq is certain to provoke massive conflict throughout the entire Arab world where the Sunni Arabs form a majority despite being in a minority in Iraq. Already the Bush administration is looking at trying to move onto Iran with a view of establishing a more pro-western or pro-US regime in Tehran. Latest reports reveal that US military personnel are already deployed in Iran gathering information of possible targets for air or military strikes and that the White House has targeted Iran for a regime change. It is paradoxical that Iraq was attacked under the pretext of possessing weapons of mass destruction where none existed. Yet Iran with the potential for a weapons programme has not suffered the same fate.

Any attempt by US imperialism to launch an invasion against Iran will be beset with far greater obstacles. With three times the population of Iraq and even less of a base to rest upon, and already facing massive military overstretch in Iraq, such discussions amongst the neo-cons indicate the Alice in Wonderland fantasy world they live in.

The danger of a civil war between the Shias and the Sunnis in Iraq is viewed with dread by the more far-sighted capitalist commentators. The International Herald Tribune warned in its leader 13/1/05: "When the United States was debating whether to invade Iraq, there was one outcome that everyone agreed had to be avoided at all costs: a civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that would create instability throughout the Middle East and give terrorists a new, ungoverned region that they could use as a base of operations. The coming elections – long touted as the beginning of a new democratic Iraq – are looking more and more like the beginning of the worst-case scenario. It’s time to talk about postponing the vote".

Such warnings however are falling on deaf ears in the Bush’s administration. The Bush regime is now considering using the ‘Salvador’ option of using death squads made up of elite units, made up of Shia and Kurds, to track down and kill Sunni fighters which could include following them into Syria for assassination. This reflects the frustration of the US at its inability to defeat the insurgency. Retired four-star General Gary Luck was quoted in Newsweek: "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are. We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense and we are loosing". (Guardian 12/1/05).

Seamus Milne writing in the Guardian (11/1/04) quoted articles in the New York Times by commentators Thomas Friedman and Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post arguing that: "We have to have a proper election in Iraq so that we can have a proper civil war" and that the US should "See Iraqi factionalisation as a useful tool". This gives a clear indication of the shift that is taking place in US strategy and tactics in relation to Iraq.

The elections called for January 30th will only deepen the quagmire in which US and British imperialisms find themselves. The capitalist politicians will undoubtedly attempt to portray them as a great success and justification for their policy. It is likely that in the Shia and Kurdish areas there will be quite a high level of participation. This does not mean that the elections will be on a democratic basis. The real power is in the hands of the occupying powers. Any gloss the capitalist politicians try to put on this vote will rapidly diappear and the crisis will again intensify with a developing sectarian conflict. The CWI is opposed to participating in any such fraudulent elections and supports a boycott by the Iraqi people. This needs to be linked to the idea of convening of a constituent assembly to determine the future of Iraq on the basis of free elections organized by non-sectarian elected committees of all the Iraqi peoples and not by a US appointed stooge government. There can be no democratic regime established in Iraq while the occupation continues.The struggle to get all the occupying powers withdrawn from Iraq and the whole of the Middle East needs to be strengthened.

The Iraqi peoples right to self defense

When faced with an occupation force the Iraqi people have the right to defend themselves. The CWI supports the establishment of a non-sectarian defence force made up of both Shia and Sunni workers, youth and the Iraqi peoples which is controlled by democratically elected committees of workers, students, the unemployed and peasants.

Socialists also should defend the right of the Iraqi people to defend themselves and fight for the withdrawal of the occupying forces.

This does not mean we support all of the actions of the resistance, especially by self-proclaimed resistance groups comprised of reactionary rightwing Islamic groupings of an al-Qaida type.The assassination of the Iraqi trade union leader Hadi Salih cannot be justified even if he collaborated with the government and received money from it. The CWI supports the building of democratic independent trade unions and other mass organisations. These need to be free from any state or government influence or interference and supports a struggle to withdraw all of the occupying powers and oppose the stooge government in Iraq. The way to oppose the policies and methods of union leaders such as Hadi Salih is through democratic debate and discussion and by arguing for a socialist alternative that will defend the democratic rights and interests of the working class.

A struggle to fight for the right to organise free trade unions, for democratic election and control of all union leaders, the right to free assembly and meetings, a programme to struggle for decent wages and conditions, opposition to privatisation and for democratic workers’ control and management is the way to defeat union leaders who support collaborating with the government or occupation forces rather than individual assassinations. Such killings will only deepen sectarian division and can also be used against the working class and socialists in the future.

These bloody methods were brutally used by the guerrilla organisation Sendero Luminoso against independent worker activists and socialists in Peru during the 1980s. They did this to try and intimidate workers and prevent them from conducting their own independent struggles, developing socialist ideas and building their own organisations outside the control of Sendero Luminoso which, because of the desperate social conditions evolved into a messianic armed force which used brutal methods against its opponents – including the working class. Socialists oppose their use in Iraq also.

Domestic problems for Bush

The debacle facing US imperialism in Iraq is already provoking wider social and political problems for the Bush regime domestically. Even since his election victory opposition, to the war has grown. For the first time a majority of the population, 56%, is against continuing the war. On the eve of his ‘coronation’ Bush’s approval ratings had fallen to 50% with 47% disapproving. In recent decades this low level of approval rating is only comparable to those achieved by Richard Nixon at the beginning of his second term in 1972.

The rising death toll of US soldiers which has reached nearly 2,000 with over 25,000 injured or maimed and the absence of any prospect of a victory will fuel the rising opposition to the war. Some US soldiers made their feelings about the war very clear to Rumsfeld when he visited them in Iraq. Bush is certain to face a growing demand from US workers, soldiers and their families and youth for the troops to be withdrawn.

The anti-war movement in the USA will undoubtedly become even stronger in the coming months and be a crucial part of the struggle to defeat Bush and US and British imperialism. The deepening crisis in Iraq illustrates the need to build support for an international socialist alternative.

Only the withdrawal of all imperialist forces from the Middle East and the establishment of a democratic socialist confederation in Iraq and a democratic socialist federation of the whole region will offer a solution to the carnage which capitalism and imperialism mean for all the peoples of the region.

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January 2005