In military terms the US-UK forces have taken most of Iraq. However the problems for the occupying forces are far from over. In reality they are only beginning.
The US and British forces have overthrown the Saddam Hussein regime, but they are in the process of unleashing forces they will not be able to control. For in spite of the propaganda about "liberating Iraq" a large part of the Iraqi population have not welcomed the bombing and destruction of their country. It is one thing to be against the dictatorship of a brutal regime, it is another for your country to be taken over by a powerful imperialist country like the USA, who are clearly there not for the people of Iraq. They are there for economic and strategic reasons.
The task of overthrowing the regime belonged to the Iraqi people
A power vacuum has now opened up in Iraq. The widespread looting is an indication of this. It has to be clearly said that this is a consequence of the regime not being overthrown by the Iraqi people. We have always stated that the task of overthrowing Saddam Hussein belonged to the Iraqi people. This is often scoffed at by the denigrators of Marxism. But we would remind our readers of one historical example, the Shah of Iran. His hated SAVAK forces were said to be all-powerful and impregnable. And yet in 1978 a movement of the Iranian masses overthrew that regime. In spite of having one of the most powerful military machines in the region, the Shah's forces melted like butter in the face of the mass movement. A key role in that movement was played by the oil workers. We have also had the recent example of the fall of Milosevic. NATO bombing did not achieve anything. It was the people who eventually moved against Milosevic.
That both in Iran or Serbia, these movements did not lead to a genuine workers' alternative is due to the fact that in both cases there was not a genuine revolutionary workers' alternative, a party of the working class, that could have led the masses. The price the people of Iran paid for this was decades of fundamentalist rule. And the price the people of Serbia paid was the coming to power of a gangster clique intent on privatising everything and destroying what was left of the old welfare state.
We are absolutely confident that sooner or later the people of Iraq, the workers and poor, even the middle class layers, would have risen up against Saddam Hussein. But that is the last thing the imperialists would have wanted. The Iraqi workers would have attempted to take control of the oil and other resources and use them to improve their own living conditions. The imperialists on the other hand want the oil for their own purposes.
If it had been the people of Iraq who had overthrown Saddam Hussein they would have built their own alternatives organs of power. Thus we would not have had the scenes of looting and chaos that we have now. The fact is that the looting actually plays a role. It creates the desire for order and that "something must be done". The reply of the imperialists is to bring back the old hated police of the regime they have just overthrown!
In this, the behaviour of the imperialists is interesting. They have allowed all ministry buildings, including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Trade, to be ransacked, except for two, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Oil. Thus they want to preserve the old state apparatus for future use and get control of the archives on the oil of Iraq. They have allowed hospitals to be ransacked. Precisely at a moment when thousands of Iraqis need emergency hospital treatment the US-UK forces have stood idly by while the already stretched health care services have been destroyed. Little do they care of education, health and all the things that serve to guarantee some degree of a civilised existence for the Iraqi people.
Loss of priceless heritage
They have no care for today's civilisation, or yesterday's if it comes to that. Their attitude to the priceless archaeological heritage of Iraq is indicative of their hooligan approach. The cradle of human civilisation itself is to be found in Iraq, where the ancient Mesopotamian cultures flourished. The heritage of 5000 years of history had survived many wars and invasions. Now much of this lies destroyed, as the museums have been ransacked by the looters. Again, the US forces just watched as all this happened. The US had actually been warned of this danger even before the war had started. They had been told what measures they should take to make sure none of this precious heritage should go lost. But the leaders of the Pentagon and the White House have other priorities. They could spare thousands of US soldiers to protect the oilfields, but could not find even a few hundred to protect the museums and essential infrastructure. Now a few enterprising individuals will no doubt make a lot of money out of smuggling precious artefacts to New York, London, Paris, where a small group of super rich people will be able to buy them for their private collections!
Undoubtedly a layer of the very poor, the hungry and destitute, are taking advantage of this situation to grab anything they can sell. But there is also the unleashing of what Marxists call the lumpenproletariat. These are not ordinary honest working people who earn their living through hard work. They are people who have been thrown onto the margins of society, without any hope for the future. Amongst this layer the criminal element can flourish. They are products of the capitalist system itself, which allows a small minority to live like kings, while a large part of the population lives in abject poverty. Iraq has the resources that could be used to guarantee all its people a decent standard of living, thus raising this strata from the gutter in which it finds itself. But that would involve eliminating privilege for the few. That is the last thing the US imperialists are going to do. So they use the desperate and destitute when it suits them. But they will soon restore "order" and crush these people when they no longer have use for them
For now, the TV news programmes are happy to state that what we are seeing is the people "taking what is rightfully theirs". What is rightfully the property of the Iraqi people is the economy, the oil and other resources. If it were not so tragic it would almost be comical. The people have the right to take carpets, fridges, computers, bath taps, anything, because, you see, this is "rightfully theirs". How would the US imperialists react if the workers of Iraq rose up and took control of the oilfields, with the argument that these "are rightfully theirs"? We can well imagine.
This behaviour of the imperialists justifies the title of our previous article by Alan Woods, 'The Vandals of the 21st Century', for what else can they be described as, if not marauding vandals who have no concern for culture, history, art or civilisation? Messrs Bush and Rumsfeld pride themselves at being at the head of "Christian civilisation". Maybe they are referring to the behaviour of the Crusaders, who also had no respect for the peoples and their civilisations that they encountered. In their so-called Holy Wars the "Christian " leaders of Europe plundered and pillaged what was then one of the most advanced civilisations of the epoch. No doubt those Crusaders also had a very high opinion of themselves, as they went about their business.
Rumsfeld justifies looting
Rumsfeld has even gone as far as justifying the looting. He said, "It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." This shows his complete lack of understanding or feeling for the real problems facing the Iraqi people. Ordinary people in Iraq are terrified of the situation that has opened. They fear to go out at night. They fear their homes will be broken into. They see their hospitals being destroyed. This is not "liberation"!
The people of Iraq have been appealing to the US and British forces to intervene and stop all this, but they are having to learn the difficult and harsh lesson that the imperialists are not in Iraq "for the people". The US military, naturally, have shown reluctance to take on a policing role.
The real situation is that people are scared of what has happened. That explains why we are seeing elements of control from below being established. People with skills are coming forward to try and repair the damage that has been done. In the neighbourhoods local militias have been taking on the task of establishing some kind of order. For example, in the hospitals, the hospital workers have had to arm themselves to defend the infrastructures. Self-defence committees have sprung up in some areas. Rumsfeld may well be justifying the looting now, but we shall see how happy he will be to allow this self-defence to continue. The US do not want any kind of genuine self-government on the part of the Iraqi people. He prefers to bring back the old hated police of the Saddam regime! Eventually of course some kind of order will be established. The people themselves will impose this. But that will not be the end of the problems facing Iraq.
Opposition to the presence of US-UK forces will not go down, on the contrary it will grow as time goes by, and as people realise more and more why the imperialists are there. Already yesterday there was an anti-US protest outside the Palestine Hotel. One of the demonstrators, Ali Zuhair, was quoted by the Al-jazeera news agency as saying, "They are guarding oil facilities, but have not done anything as yet to restore essential services like power and water." The reaction of the US soldiers was to set up barricades around the hotel to keep back the protestors who were chanting anti-US slogans. This scene is a very graphic description of the real relationship between the so-called "liberators" and the people of Iraq. One of those present at the protest, a certain professor Shakir Aziz, claimed that he had seen the US troops goading people to loot and burn the University of Technology. No doubt these soldiers were expressing Rumsfeld's understanding of the situation!
The Independent on Sunday (April 13, 2003) quoted a doctor who works at the Al-Kindi hospital in Baghdad, who probably shows the real mood that exists, "I will tell you what the problem is – the Americans came and smashed up our country. We have been dealing with what they had done for the last few weeks – the women and children bombed, people shot at road checkpoints for no reason, maybe for fun." A nurse working at the same hospital added, "It is strange that this hospital kept operating during the bombing and the problem began after the Americans took over the city."
In all the major town of Iraq ordinary people have drawn the conclusion that the foreign troops are robbers not "liberators". Whatever the media here in the west may say, the people of Iraq can see what the real situation is, and this will lead to a massive opposition movement over the coming period.
This opposition will find different channels, but it is clear that one of the developments will be guerrilla attacks on the occupying forces. This kind of fighting has already started. It is inevitable in fact. The Iraqi army proved no match for the US and UK military machine. As we said before in other articles, the imperialists could have destroyed Iraq ten times over. The fact that they would win was not in doubt. What was in doubt was how long the Iraqis could resist. Faced with this superior firepower the tactics of guerrillaism and individual terrorism will inevitably be adopted. This is already taking place in Baghdad itself. Yesterday there was a hit and run attack on US forces in Baghdad. Six US soldiers were wounded. And in the early hours of this morning small arms fire broke out near the Palestine Hotel, where the foreign media are stationed. US troops came under fire from three different directions. A few days earlier a suicide attack took place when an Iraqi drove his car laden with explosives into a US checkpoint. And we can expect more of these kinds of attacks over the coming period.
The National Question
The National Question is also a key issue in Iraq. Iraq was created by the British imperialists after the First World War, with no concern for the people that lived there. Nations such as the Kurds were divided by artificial borders. There are several groups living within Iraq's borders, but the main ones are the Kurds in the north, the Shias who mainly live in the south (but are also present in large numbers in Baghdad itself) and the Sunnis.
The ruling elite has always come from within the Sunnis. In fact Saddam Hussein himself belonged to this group. The Shias have always tended to be the poorer sections of society. In Baghdad part of the conflicts taking place have in fact been between the poorer Shias and what they perceive as the wealthier Sunnis. Thus far from stability, what the American forces have unleashed in Baghdad and other cities is the potential for civil war. Already many streets in Baghdad have been barricaded off and are manned with armed groups who are defending their neighbourhoods.
A similar conflict is developing in the North where tensions are mounting between the Kurds and the Arabs. Fighting has taken place in the town of Hawi Jah where people were killed on both sides. In Kirkuk and Mosul we see similar developments.
The power vacuum that has emerged has allowed the Kurdish forces in the north to move south. In some instances they have moved in to expel Arab families and retake what they consider to be theirs after Saddam threw out the Kurds over a decade ago. Thus another potential ethnic war is being prepared.
The south is dominated by the Shias. Here Iran could play a role. The Iranians are Shias and the leader of the regime in Iran, Khamenei has declared that "we don't support any side", which means they have their own plans. As yet there is no direct military intervention on the part of Iran. They would not want to openly provoke the wrath of US imperialism, who have already made it clear that Iran is on their list of so-called "rogue states". That does not mean that they are not financing or supporting Shia groups operating in the South.
Thus, just as in the former Yugoslavia, the intervention of the imperialists could unleash terrible ethnic conflicts. There is even the danger of the break-up of Iraq. But in the case of Iraq, the imperialists do not favour such a break-up and will not let this happen. They want to keep Iraq as one body, but internally divided and weak, which they can control from above. They cannot allow the Kurds to form their own state, for this would upset neighbouring Turkey. The Turks have already given the warning that if Kirkuk remains under Kurdish control they would send in their troops. The Turks would crush the Kurds, for they do not want an independent Kurdish state on their border. This would encourage the Kurds in Turkey to move towards greater autonomy and possibly separation. Turkey is too important for the US to allow the Kurds to have their own state. Thus while they are prepared to accept the help of the Kurds, who allowed them to have airstrips in northern Iraq, they will betray them very easily once they no longer need them.
The farcical Iraqi National Congress
Thus we can see that the problems for US and UK imperialism have only just begun. The ideal situation for them would be to find layers within the Iraqi ruling elite who could provide some semblance of an Iraqi government. The longer the US troops stay the greater the risk of a movement against them. But finding these forces is not so easy. They have toyed with the idea of using the so-called Iraqi National Congress. This is a hotchpotch of different factions. They held a conference before the war started, but it was difficult for the 300 or so different factions to come to an agreement. Apparently they couldn't even agree on who was to chair the conference! Its most well-known figure is Ahmed Chalabi. The calibre of the Iraqi National Congress leadership is shown by the fact that Chalabi is wanted for charges of fraud in neighbouring Jordan! This fact alone gives an idea of what he has been up to during the years of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. In reality he is a joke. He represents merely another clique eager to get its hands on the resources and wealth of Iraq. The Iraqi National Congress has no real support inside the country. Apparently any talk of Chalabi becoming leader of the country provokes laughter.
Initially Chalabi was the man of the US administration, but as we have pointed out in other articles, they do not trust him now. He has made speeches in which he has said there is no room for the Americans in running Iraq. He understands that if he is seen as being the man of the USA he will get nowhere in Iraq. Thus he now humbly says that, "I am not a candidate for any political position in Iraq. My main focus is to work toward the restoration of civil society in Iraq."
What this shows is that in the conditions of Iraq there is very little room for so-called western style capitalist "democracy". If we look at what the programme of any capitalist government would be in Iraq this will help to understand why this cannot be. The programme of any imperialist dominated government in Iraq will be the same as elsewhere. It will be based on the privatisation of the state controlled resources, cuts in welfare spending and a siphoning off of wealth to the imperialist countries. The imperialists will want what is owed to them with interest. All this means the workers and people of Iraq will pay for this.
In these conditions the alternatives are either some form of dictatorship or workers' rule. In the short term the dictatorship will be a de facto US run administration, as we have explained in other articles. Under such an administration anti-US feelings will grow further. Elements like Chalabi will not have the authority to govern, thus it will be other forces that will emerge. In the Kurdish areas there are already parties that control power locally. The leaders of the parties have their own vested interests to defend. Elsewhere we can see the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism as a danger to the workers of Iraq. What is happening in the poor area that was known as Saddam City (now renamed Sadr city) gives us an idea of what could happen. Checkpoints have been set up by armed groups. These groups seem to be organised around their local mosques. Thus the Islamic clergy are set to fill a vacuum that has appeared. On this road clearly the future is a grim one. With the religious and national divisions that exist in Iraq, the mosques can only be a source of greater conflict.
US imperialists overconfident
In the meantime the US are preparing to run the country. The leaders of the Pentagon and the White House will be feeling very confident. They were determined to go to war on Iraq, and now they have their prize. In just a few weeks they have taken a key country in the Middle East. Their weaponry has proved overwhelming. But this can lead them to get too confident. They have already made threats to Syria, claiming it was helping Saddam Hussein's regime. Now they claim they may be harbouring key figures from the fallen Iraqi regime. Syria was already on their list. Some may be thinking, as they have the troops in the region why not go on and finish off the Syrian regime as well. They have made similar hints to Iran, and the list goes on. If they go ahead with plans to invade other countries they will be opening up a hornets' nest. If they attack any other Moslem countries it would be a clear provocation to the peoples of the Arab countries. The war on Iraq has already destabilised the region. Many of the Arab regimes are tottering on the brink (such as Saudi Arabia). Any further moves by the US would push the masses onto the road of struggle. Like all empires in the past, the USA could overstretch itself, and from a source of strength its attempts to expand the empire, in the long run, could lead to its downfall.
Finally the so-called 'weapons of mass destruction' merit a few words. The justification for this war was based on the idea that the Iraqi regime had terrible weapons of destruction. They were supposed to have huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and they were also supposedly very close to building their own nuclear weapons.
So far they have found none, in spite of teams of US and UK inspectors scouring the country desperately looking for them. They keep coming up with the latest find, which turns out to be fertilisers or some other harmless product. In spite of this the US politicians and army generals keep on reassuring us that they will definitely find them. The most recent absurd statement is that the fleeing leaders of the Saddam regime have taken them with them! If they had any definite proof of these weapons you can be sure they would be on the front page of every newspaper, and they would be the first item on every news programme. A leading Iraqi scientist, Lieutenant-General Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, just surrendered. He is a chemicals expert, but is vehemently denying the regime had any "weapons of mass destruction".
Now some US and British politicians are saying that even if they don't find any such weapons the war was justified anyway because they have overthrown a dictator! With this argument many more wars are possible for there are many dictatorships around the world (Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and many more of the Arab regimes are all dictatorships). Are they going to invade all of them? Of course not. In the past the US have lived with such dictatorships, including that of Saddam Hussein, as long as they served their purposes. This was not a war about democracy, or security or any other such fantasy. It was about who controls the important strategic region of the Middle East.
For now, US imperialism has put its imprint on the whole region. But it is preparing a massive backlash that will sweep the whole region. The oppressed peoples of the Middle East will not tolerate this situation for ever. Their lives are daily become more miserable. A movement of the masses all across the Middle East is being prepared. It will be comparable to that of the Iranian masses in 1978, but this time it will have an international dimension. What is missing in the whole region is a clear socialist perspective. All thinking workers and youth will be looking for a way out of the present mess. That way out cannot be found on the basis of capitalism.