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imperialism & war | political theory

War in Irag far from over

In Defense of Marxism- http://www.marxist.com
Workers International League- http://www.socialistappeal.org

War in Iraq is far from over
by Phil Mitchinson
Apparently as one enters Baghdad from the west there is graffiti on the walls that says "Welcome to the Republic of Darkness and Unemployment". The devastation of Iraq's economy and infrastructure makes that statement literally true.

The war in Iraq solved nothing from the standpoint of US imperialism, instead it has ushered in a period of even greater instability throughout the Middle East and on a world scale. For the Iraqi masses the war has been a disaster.

Bush, Blair and co. promised to deliver freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq. Their real interests however, were somewhat less altruistic. Nevertheless, they believed their troops would be welcomed as liberators once Saddam Hussein was removed. The real situation has turned out to be far more difficult than they had imagined.

From the beginning the policy of US imperialism was concerned with Iraq's oil, with US strategic interests in the Middle East, and with stamping the authority of US imperialism on the world. These are the real concerns of imperialism, barely hidden behind the facade of 'democracy' and 'freedom'. The conduct of the US imperialists in Iraq is clearly not that of liberators but of an army of occupation and a colonial power.

However, even securing control of Iraq's oil production has proven more difficult than they imagined. US army engineers are daily struggling against the attacks of saboteurs determined to prevent the Americans looting Iraq's oil.

Their problems with the oilfields though, are minuscule compared to the problem they face in the shape of the resistance of the Iraqi people. What was meant to be a repetition of the Normandy landings of 1944 is instead starting to resemble the quagmire created after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam in 1964. The population of Iraq may well be pleased to see the back of Saddam, but they have not been duped into seeing their invaders as liberators bringing them the wonders of western civilisation. As the French revolutionary Robespierre once explained, people do not like missionaries with bayonets.

Three months after the fall of Saddam the people of Iraq are in a worse position than before - with water and power shortages, occupied by foreign armies which insult them and kill innocent civilians. They are left with little alternative but to fight with whatever means they can find. American and British troops live in constant dread of snipers and suicide bombers and are inclined to shoot first and ask questions afterwards. This is a finished recipe for massacres and atrocities. At the same time it is a recipe for a guerrilla struggle on the part of the Iraqi people against their invaders, a struggle which looks set to drag on for years.

The imperialists promised democracy and freedom. Instead they have delivered an American Viceroy. They promised "oil to the Iraqi people". Instead they are planning to privatise the country's oil. They promised a "better condition of life". In most towns and villages Iraqis have no water or electricity.

All their promises have proved to be empty. The aggressive policy of the US and British forces is provoking more and more anger and resentment amongst the entire population. These are the real reasons behind the guerrilla struggle against foreign occupation now developing in Iraq.

The US governor of Iraq, Bremer, describes those fighting back as "Baathist bitter-enders", but Saddam loyalists are only the first of three groups fighting against American occupation.

The second consists of several different fundamentalist organisations from neighbouring countries. These include the Armed Vanguard of the Second Mohammed Army who claim responsibility for the UN bombing. The press is as ever prattling on hypocritically that the UN is only in Iraq 'to help the people, to deliver aid' and so on.

UN Exposed

The real role of the UN was already exposed by its inability to prevent the US/British invasion of Iraq. It has been exposed still further by the passing of Resolution 1483, by which the UN has declared the occupation of Iraq by US and British troops to be perfectly legal. Crucially, the resolution handed over legal control of Iraq's oil reserves from the UN to the US and Britain.

Of course, Bush sees al-Qaeda everywhere he looks. No doubt some of the groups now inside Iraq have links with them. For al-Qaeda, the US occupation of Iraq presents a growth opportunity they otherwise would never have gained. U.S. forces have found evidence that a number of Islamic fundamentalists from all over the Arab world have entered Iraq. Some fighters captured by US forces in Iraq have carried foreign passports, and a substantial number of volunteer fighters had crossed into Iraq from Jordan and Syria before the war.

The third group are the ordinary Iraqis, opposed to the foreign armies of occupation, opposed to the killing of innocent civilians, and forced into a desperate position by the lack of water and electricity. Time magazine describes the conditions fuelling the struggle of ordinary Iraqis against the US occupation of their country:

"Mohammad Imad Khazalalrubai does not appear in any deck of cards or on any list of Iraq's most wanted. Until last week the 16 year old was an ordinary student in an affluent suburb of Baghdad. But it took only minutes to transform him from a bystander to American rule in Iraq to a willing recruit to the resistance movement, vowing to kill US soldiers. As he and his brother Zaid drove home after collecting their family's monthly rations of flour, rice and cooking oil, they came upon a hastily established American checkpoint... suddenly according to witnesses, soldiers in a humvee 150 yards away opened up, firing high velocity rounds through the windshield of the boys' car. When the firing stopped, Zaid, 13, opened a door and stuck his head out to shake off the shattered glass. At that point, Mohammad says, a single American bullet killed him. 'My brother's blood will not go for nothing,' Mohammad screamed in anguish two days later, his wounds from the shooting still swathed in bandages. 'I'll take revenge on those American sons of b___."(Time, 18/08/03)

Abu Bilal al Falujah told Time: "We have no relation whatever with the old regime. Most of us were imprisoned and humiliated in Saddam's time... The problems started with the way the Americans ignored our ideas and customs. They humiliated us; they occupied our mosque. Of course, I will seek revenge if I am insulted." (Time, 18/08/03)

US commanders have demonstrated a complete lack of sensitivity towards the people whose country they have invaded. They behave in the most arrogant manner. For example, the US crew of a Black Hawk helicopter removed an Islamic banner from the top of a telecommunications tower. Thousands gathered below the tower to protest, and US troops opened fire indiscriminately.

The US military keeps no tally of Iraqi civilian casualties, but according to iraqbodycount.org, a watchdog group that compiles figures from press reports, the civilian toll in Iraq is 6,000 to 7,000. There were many thousands more military casualties, but exact figures are difficult to come by. "During the war the American soldiers told my volunteers not to go near the bodies in burnt-out tanks, because they would almost certainly have been attacked with depleted uranium," according to a Red Crescent official.

The death toll among US troops in Iraq stands at 258, 170 of them in combat. The remaining 88 deaths have been due to accidents, suicides and illness.

Many press reports blame the heavy handed and arrogant approach of the American military authorities for stoking up a violent response. Indeed their insensitivity is breathtaking. Take their latest scheme to catch Saddam supporters. Troops from the 4th infantry have been given the task of flyposting dodgy posters featuring the bodies of Veronica Lake and Zsa Zsa Gabor with Saddam's head superimposed on top, around the walls of Tikrit.

The aim, apparently, is to so enrage Saddam's followers that they will give themselves away.

"Most of the locals will love 'em and they'll be laughing. But the bad guys are going to be upset, which will just make it easier for us to know who they are." Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Russell told Reuters.

No doubt such tactics play an important part in fuelling the resentment of the Iraqi people. But the attempt to claim that the British authorities were handling the situation better has been exposed above all in Basra.


Two thousand people took to the streets of Basra in August to protest against the occupation of their country and against power cuts and water shortages.

Sabri Zugheyer, 45, a restaurant owner, who needed fuel for his generator, said: "The British promised to make everything better, but now it's worse. Even in the old days it was never as bad as this. Their promises are worth nothing."

Kadhem Sagbhan, 29, a labourer, said he had thrown stones during the riots, but next time there was trouble he would throw hand grenades at the coalition forces. "They promised us there would be petrol today, but there is nothing. The British, they are selling it to the Kuwaitis and taking $75 (50) as their cut," he claimed.

Even one of the British soldiers on guard at the petrol station said he understood why the people were so angry. "In this heat?" he said pointing at the sky, "you can hardly blame them."

"The British and Americans come here and promise us everything, but things are worse now than under Saddam," said Adnan Abud, 45, a taxi driver who had been queuing for fuel for more than six hours.

"You cannot know what it is like to live in this heat with no power and no fuel. It is intolerable."

Iraq may be a country floating on oil, yet they are now reduced to importing essential refined oil products, including petrol, diesel and cooking gas. There are continual power cuts. With August temperatures soaring above 50C (122F), no electricity means no fans and no air conditioning.

Of the $680m (425m) the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has allocated for construction, $229m will be used for electricity. But according to the authorities, Iraq will need to build another five power stations to meet the peak summer demand of 7,000MW and keep the power on 24 hours a day. That could cost $10bn and take as long as three years.

Despite much of the country being desert, the one thing there should be no shortage of in Iraq is water. Two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, flow almost the length of the country. But the water supply relies on electricity, so when there is no electricity there is no water.

The CPA claims it will have the water system fully operational by the beginning of Ramadan in October, but the sewage system is a different matter: the main sewage treatment plants were stripped bare in the post-war looting.

At the moment most of the sewage is flowing back into the rivers in an almost raw state, and officials estimate that it will take up to a year to rectify the situation.

National Liberation

US imperialism has no intention of solving the problems facing the Iraqi masses. That was never their goal. The imperialists naked aggression against the people of Iraq, their plundering and looting, and the devastation caused to the economy and infrastructure of the country is intolerable. Naturally we must support the right to self defence of the Iraqi people against these invaders. Theirs is a struggle of national liberation against an occupying imperialist power. The longer that struggle continues the stronger will grow the voices of opposition inside the US and Britain. A guerrilla struggle alone however will not be able to defeat the military might of US imperialism. As an auxiliary to a mighty mass movement of the workers, students, urban and rural poor to take charge of their country and their lives it would electrify the whole region.

The US imperialists have become overconfident. Their military might is unquestionable, however, as Leon Trotsky explained before the second world war, they may have achieved international dominance, but they have built dynamite into their own foundations. Each new imperialist aggression prepares struggles across the globe, and not least inside the United States itself. Today the Iraqi masses are paying a heavy price for the adventures of imperialism. Tomorrow Bush and Blair will pay for their actions too.

August 2003.

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