Diplomacy prepares the way for war

The preparations for war are acquiring a more feverish and urgent character by the day. On September 16, Iraq offered to allow UN weapons inspectors back without conditions. But this does not mean that war is off the agenda. On the contrary, war is now much closer. The decision by Iraq to allow the inspectors back was a last desperate attempt to avoid military action. The press has described it as Saddam Hussein's ace card. But this is not a game of cards but a life and death struggle in which the rules are made up as we go along.

"The law is like a spider's web: the small are caught, and the great tear it up." (Solon of Athens)

On September 16, Iraq offered to allow UN weapons inspectors back without conditions. The world breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe war was off the agenda after all! Unfortunately, this reaction was entirely premature. War is not further off than before but far nearer. The preparations for war are acquiring a more feverish and urgent character by the day.

The decision by Iraq to allow the inspectors back was a last desperate attempt to avoid military action. The press has described it as Saddam Hussein's ace card. But this is not a game of cards but a life and death struggle in which the rules are made up as we go along. America immediately refused to give Baghdad's offer any credence at all, thus throwing Iraq once again onto the defensive in diplomatic terms.

Iraq's sudden change of attitude on weapons inspections was intended to exacerbate the difference between America's policy and that of its "allies". It achieved a partial and temporary success. Even its closest of these, Britain, has backed away from explicit support for Bush's unconditional demand for "regime change", and has, at least formally allowed for the possibility of a disarmed Saddam Hussein remaining in power. However, this Iraqi success was more apparent than real.

Saddam Hussein was hoping to make use of the splits in the western camp to further divide the enemy and make a US attack less likely. By organizing a ceremony of confusion, he might push members of the UN Security Council into opposing the USA and even wield the veto. He partly succeeded, inasmuch as Russia and France renewed their public opposition to war. But this victory had an entirely superficial and temporary character. Within just one week London was back on board. As part of a preparatory operation, Blair has published a dossier that allegedly "proves" (for the nth time) Iraq's determination to acquire diabolical weapons of mass destruction.

The fraud of "inspection"

George Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly on September 12 was calculated to give the impression that the USA was prepared to gave multilateral diplomacy one last chance. In reality it was a cunningly worded ultimatum. The US president challenged the UN to enforce compliance with the many resolutions on Iraq it has passed since the Gulf war in 1991. According to Mr Bush's estimates (we assume he can count), Saddam Hussein has defied 16 of these. He painted in lurid colours the alleged attempts of Iraq to build or maintain an arsenal of chemical, biological and perhaps nuclear weapons, and the risk that these might find their way into the hands of terrorists.

Bush demands that the inspectors must have unrestricted access to any place, any person and any document that they want, including access to Saddam's so-called "presidential palaces", which are suspected of housing some of the famous weapons of mass destruction. In case the Iraqis might accept this, he adds that Iraq must take immediate steps to disarm and destroy all the aforementioned weapons. But even if Iraq were to do everything asked of it, we still come back to the central demand, which is a change of regime. This is the real aim of the USA, and therefore the issue of inspection has very little importance, except as an excuse to pick a fight.

As if to demonstrate that the issue of the return of weapons inspectors was a mere pretext, Mr Bush was careful to avoid specific mention of the matter in his speech. Instead he listed five broad conditions Iraq must meet "if the regime wishes peace". These started with the demand that it must "immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material." Just in case this was not enough, he threw in for good measure Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, his persecution of his own people, and his failure to account for all those missing since the Gulf war in 1991. This is a sufficiently long catalogue to guarantee that Baghdad falls down over one point or another, thus furnishing a pretext for a military offensive.

The issue of inspection does not mean that war is further away but exactly the opposite. Like a deadly minuet, the farce of going through the motions of new "inspections" has already commenced. Meetings have been held between Iraqi officials and Hans Blix, head of the UN body responsible for weapons inspection in Iraq (Unmovic). Mr Blix says that he can have a team in Iraq from the middle of next month. It will then need at least four months to do its initial work. But this is all hypothetical. The Iraqis will obviously try to drag the process out, delay and prevaricate to gain time. On the other hand Washington will be pressing for immediate action, constantly adding new and ever more insolent demands

If anyone doubts that the issue of inspection is just a pretext for aggression, they should take the trouble to read the speeches of the main representatives of the Bush administration. Rumsfeld and Cheney have publicly poured scorn on the inspection regime. On September 19, Mr Rumsfeld again dismissed the inspections as a tactical ploy that would actually increase the risk posed by Iraq: "The more inspectors that are in there, the less likely something is going to happen. The longer nothing happens, the more advanced their weapons programs go along."

If inspectors are ever sent back into Iraq, it will be only for the purpose of provocation. The term "intrusive inspection" means just what it says. The inspectors will be used to provoke the Iraqis into conflicts that will justify Washington's conclusion that "Iraq is not being serious". On the first occasion that the Iraqis collide with the inspectors, Bush will proclaim to the four winds that Iraq is not serious about collaborating with the "international community". This will then be used as the excuse to start intensive bombing. Meanwhile the inspectors will have passed on detailed information about the exact state of Iraq's defences to the invaders.

Remorseless military build-up

Baghdad is playing for time but the Americans are in a hurry. They seem to have their eyes fixed on January for the commencement of an invasion and have no intention of allowing haggle over the terms on which the inspectors operate. Even if the inspectors are finally allowed in to start work soon, there will be constant disputes, as there have been in the past. On the other hand, if the Iraqis collaborate, it would rule out the possibility of an invasion this winter. Neither outcome would please Washington.

Mr Bush warned the UN that Mr Hussein is "a man who has delayed, denied, deceived the world", and warned the body that if it allowed itself to be fooled again it risked writing itself off as an irrelevant "ineffective debating society". On September 19, he was even more explicit, saying that if the UN Security Council "won't deal with the problem, the United States and some of our friends will." This is plain enough! In answer to Iraq's concession on arms inspectors, the Americans merely shrugged their shoulders and set about elaborating new demands and ultimatums, while stepping up their military preparations.

Preparations for an attack against Iraq have been gathering pace remorselessly. Last week an "exercise" was announced which would involve the move in November of 600 officers from the US army's central command from Florida to Qatar, in the Gulf. A huge military command centre has been built under the cover of security in the Gulf for the purpose of organizing America's war against Iraq.

On September 16, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defence, announced that, for the past month, American fighter planes had been attacking air command and communications facilities as well as anti-aircraft defences in Iraq. A new runway has been built in Qatar for America's heaviest bombers and cargo aircraft. Negotiations are also in process between America and Britain about basing some American B52 bombers on the British island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, within easier striking range of Iraq.

Last week President George Bush sent a draft resolution to Congress, asking it to conclude that Iraq is in "material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations". The real purpose of the resolution was to authorise the president "to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force" to enforce United Nations resolutions allegedly not implemented by Iraq. All this indicates the inevitability of air strikes against Iraq in the near future.

Nor are the preparations confined to the air. General Tommy Franks has already placed a plan before Donald Rumsfeld, with details of targets, units etc. They are contemplating a ferocious air bombardment followed rapidly by an attack by armoured divisions on the ground. A giant tent city has been erected in Qatar capable of housing up to 3,300 service personnel. This implies that US military action on the ground may come far sooner than most people expect.

Diplomatic smokescreen

While preparing for unilateral military action, the Bush administration, with an eye to manipulating world public opinion, is also pressing for a new UN resolution, which will state that Iraq is in material breach of international law, and implicitly threaten force. The aim of all these manoeuvres is not to prevent war, as some people foolishly imagine, but only to provide a "legal" smokescreen to cover the nakedness of the US aggression against Iraq.

When it finally comes - as it surely will - the war will be a US venture, with the British as a fig leaf to give some kind of impression that the USA is not acting unilaterally. Blair has apparently persuaded Bush to act with more care. To please the French and provide a bit of extra coverage for the military operation, a new resolution will be sent to the UN (possibly from Britain). This will undoubtedly include provision for military action, providing the American military with a green light to commence hostilities, ostensibly in the name of the UN. However, this is just so much window dressing. New UN resolutions will not be necessary for the outbreak of hostilities. In fact, Bush has let it be known that he sees them as an encumbrance to America's freedom of action.

The Iraqis vainly attempted to regain the diplomatic initiative in a speech delivered to the UN on September 19 by his foreign minister, Naji Sabri, which was widely seen as a direct message from Saddam Hussein. The speech accused Mr Bush of "utmost distortions", and declared Iraq "clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons". But these words merely called forth a cynical smile form the US delegates. Indeed cynicism is the name of the game. The idea that the USA's actions will be determined by votes in the UN is just plain stupid. What settles important questions between states is not speeches and resolutions but force or the threat of force. "If you want to keep the peace," Bush said on September 19, "you've got to have the authorisation to use force."

Bush's resolution to congress will almost certainly be passed. The "opposition" of the Democrats will evaporate like water off a hot stove as the military machine starts to roll. All will be falling over themselves to wave the flag. The differences between Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld and Powell were merely of a tactical character. They disagreed on the methods of defeating Iraq, not on the substance of the question. Now even the secondary disagreements have disappeared. All this is perfectly logical. Colin Powell, the supposedly conciliatory secretary of state, recently said that without a new UN resolution, America would find ways to thwart the return of inspectors. So much for the "peace party" in Washington!

As it becomes clear to all that there is no stopping the USA, attitudes will change miraculously, and not only in the USA. President Chirac has already indicated that France would drop its opposition to military action, if only the Security Council gives its blessing and a sufficient number of ultimatums are delivered to Baghdad. Even chancellor Schroeder, having been elected in part as a result of his anti-war propaganda (which Cheney says has "poisoned" German-US relations) will probably sneak slyly over to a position more in accord with Washington's liking. He will "discover" new information about the regime in Baghdad that will convince him that his earlier position was all a mistake. "Just imagine!" he will say. "There was no-one so opposed to the war than me. But now that I have seen the real position…" In other words: if you don't like my principles, I'll change them.

Imperialist gangsterism

Despite everything, at least for the time being, the other 14 members of the UN Security Council still insist on the narrow issue of weapons inspection. They are like a scrupulous neighbour observing a burglar who is ready to break into a house next door. The good neighbour does not mind the burglar breaking in but advises him, for the sake of good manners, to ring the doorbell first. Once the burglar has completed this courtesy and been refused admission, the conscientious neighbour will then be quite prepared to see the door kicked in and, if necessary the house burned down with all the inhabitants inside. After all, it is not his house, and maybe he will get the chance to pick some nice little items out of the wreckage… This is the usual morality of diplomacy, where all that matters is "good form".

Unfortunately, diplomatic skills do not feature highly in the accomplishments of George W. Bush and the American imperialists. They are in a hurry to reveal the mailed fist that lies within the velvet glove. They speak and act like the hoodlums and Mafiosi who are the main characters in so many Hollywood movies. Such behaviour unnerves the foreign ministries in Paris and even causes raised eyebrows in London. Tony Blair likes to believe that he is influencing the policies of Washington. Such "influence" - insofar as it is not just a figment of Mr Blair's fertile imagination - is confined to questions of form. The substance of US policy remains what it always was: the crudest form of bullying, aggression and gangsterism. And Britain acts as a satellite of US imperialism - which is exactly what it is.

This was most strikingly revealed last week, when the Americans, with astonishing crudity, warned the French, Russians and anyone else who failed to show enthusiastic support for the invasion of Iraq that they would not be allowed to participate in the lucrative oil business and contracts after the war and "regime change". Here we have the essence of the whole affair. It is the voice of the robber who is already sharing out the loot even before attacking his victim. Here we have the crude reality of American imperialism as banditry on a vast scale. The diplomatic niceties are only intended to cover up this reality and fool the world as to what is really going on. The difference between the American bandits and the European bandits is that the latter prefer greater discretion, whereas the transatlantic mobsters, conscious of their colossal strength, prefer to base themselves directly on the employment of naked force.

America and Russia

The main worry for Washington was the reaction of Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council in possession of a veto. Russia was always the one most likely to take Iraq's side, not, of course, for any sentimental reasons but because Iraq used to belong to the Soviet Union's sphere of influence and, besides, Russia has considerable economic interests in Iraq. Moscow's opposition to a US invasion of Iraq was therefore entirely predictable. The oil industry is of crucial importance to Russia, and the oil lobby, which has interests in Iraq, has the ear of President Putin. These circles see a considerable potential in Iraq, and fear with some reason that a change of regime in Baghdad would deprive them of their lucrative contracts. Therefore Moscow was quick to welcome its offer on inspections, and to argue that it removed the need for a new UN resolution. This was not appreciated in Washington, which has lately become unaccustomed to opposition from this quarter.

It is not at all clear, however, that Moscow will finally use its veto in the Security Council. More likely they will reach a gentleman's agreement with the Americans. The latter have made it clear that they intend to attack Iraq, no matter what the Security Council says or does. Russian opposition in the UN is therefore of purely academic interest. Russia will not wish to suffer the humiliation of seeing its opposition brushed aside like a man swatting a fly. Nor will it want to be excluded from the tasty contracts that will be available after the war. And since Russia is always in need of cash, a deal can be struck that would, for example, provide more credits from the West and maybe American support for Russian membership of the WTO.

On September 20, Mr Bush met the Russian foreign and defence ministers. American officials suspect (correctly) that Russia has its price for withdrawing its opposition to an invasion of Iraq. A softening of American opposition to Moscow's threats against Georgia for doing too little to deal with Chechen "terrorists" on its soil could form part of the deal. Assurances might be given that any new Iraqi government would repay Baghdad's debts to Moscow (in the region of $8 billion), and allow Russian firms to participate in the country's reconstruction.

After their meeting with Mr Bush, the two ministers gave no indication that they had changed their minds - yet. Russia's priority remained the resumption of inspections. But as we all know, priorities can change. In the end, with many a sigh and many a tear, Putin will probably be persuaded to look the other way while his erstwhile friend and ally is struck down.

Blair's pernicious role

For a supposed enthusiast of democracy, Tony Blair has shown a remarkable lack of enthusiasm for democratic procedures. The Mother of Parliaments was recalled to debate the question of Iraq - but only belatedly and after many protests. Even then no vote was allowed on the question of Britain's participation in a war. The reason is clear: Blair did not believe he would get a majority. An attempt was made to get a vote in the House before going to war. But this was ruled out of order. According to the rules that somebody has made up (since Britain lacks a written constitution), war can be launched on the basis of the so-called "royal prerogative" - theoretically on the proposal of the Queen, but in practice by the decision of the prime minister. No vote will be allowed in the House of Commons. So much for democracy!

In his speech, Blair warned that the military threat from Saddam Hussein was "real and growing". Sooner or later his weapons would threaten the peace of the world. Blair's aim was, of course, peace and disarmament! In this he received the firm backing of the Tory leader, but the opposition of his own supporters.

"I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current," he stated. And to support his claims he quoted unspecified intelligence reports, the details and sources of which remain secret. It is known, for example, that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from African countries - in the 1980s.

That Mr Blair is in no doubt about anything comes as no surprise, since he has been in no doubt all along. However, his personal convictions cannot hide the fact that the allegations in the document are entirely unsubstantiated. There was no real attempt to prove any of these allegations. In fact, there is nothing new in the dossier - nothing that differs substantially from what was contained in the report of the IISS only a week earlier, which we have already analysed (See IISS Report on Iraq: Why let the facts spoil a good story?).

Not only is there almost nothing in this report that was not already in the report of the IISS, but the sources of whatever "information" there is cannot be made public because it is derived from intelligence sources. Blair acknowledged that people would find fault with the unspecified intelligence sources used in the dossier. This statement is an admission that the dossier is fatally flawed and is an invention of the security services. The purpose of this report was not to shed light on the situation but to build up a mood in favour of military action. Thus, Blair told the House that the policy of containment, embargo and inspection was not working. One asks oneself what is the point of all the fuss about inspection, if it has already been shown to be useless. The conclusion is clear. The USA will attack Iraq, and Britain will support a shameful act of aggression unconditionally. That is all we need to know.

Blatant hypocrisy

In their indecent haste to commence armed aggression against Iraq, Bush and Blair display conveniently short memories. All their bluster about "democracy", "peace" and "civilized values" is, as always, just so much cynical hypocrisy. What motivates the imperialists is just greed: the desire to conquer new markets, raw materials (especially oil) and spheres of influence. The wolf of US imperialism wants to devour Iraq and impose a monopoly over its huge reserves of oil. The little, yapping poodle of British imperialism plays a useful role of running behind its master, trying to create the impression that some great coalition still exists and that America is not merely pursuing its own selfish interests in the Middle East. In return for this favour, it will be thrown a small bone in the shape of profitable contracts once the "regime change" has been carried out.

The insolence and hypocrisy of the imperialists knows no limits. While noisily demanding that Iraq must carry out to the letter every existing UN resolution (and a few that do not exist), Washington turns a blind eye to the flagrant disregard of UN decisions on the part of Israel. This is a cause of general indignation throughout the Arab world. Aware of the need of some kind of gesture to calm Arab nerves, Blair has been pushing the Americans for a new initiative on Palestine. The favourite proposal is a conference on the Palestinian question. This would be ideal from the standpoint of imperialism, since it means precisely nothing. Even so, Blair's pleading has met with no results. The reason is obvious. The USA needs Israel's support in its conflict with Iraq, and Tel Aviv is implacably opposed to any concessions on the Palestinian question.

The argument that Iraq presents a military threat to the USA is so palpably false that other lines of attack are necessary to soften up public opinion. The main method is to assert repeatedly that Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator who represses, tortures and kills his own people. That is quite true but it is hardly new. Hussein is a vicious tyrant whom no real socialist would support. But the fact is that the very people in Britain and the USA who now denounce the crimes of Saddam Hussein were the ones who actively backed, armed and financed him in the past. Recently a retired British army officer asked why it was that the British government had sent him and other officers to Baghdad to train Iraqi troops to fight Iran in the past and now pretends to be scandalized by crimes about which they were fully informed twenty years ago.

Yes, Saddam Hussein is a dictator, a tyrant and a murderer. But that did not prevent the USA from arming him for a bloody war against Iran in which a million people lost their lives. It did not prevent Britain and the USA from selling arms to him long after it was known that he had used appalling chemical weapons on the Iraqi Kurds. Nor did it prevent Donald Rumsfeld from visiting Baghdad and praising the regime of Saddam Hussein in 1984.

Particularly disgusting is the use that is being made of the bombing of Kurdish villages with chemical weapons in the 1980s. This was undoubtedly a ghastly crime. But it was a crime that was well known to London and Washington at the time. They remained silent, despite the detailed reports of these horrors that appeared in the press. They must therefore be regarded as accomplices in these crimes in the most literal sense of the word. The British, for instance, continued to sell military hardware to Iraq even after these atrocities were known. Thus, for these ladies and gentlemen to protest now about crimes that they knew about long ago stinks of hypocrisy. It is perhaps superfluous to add that the British were bombing Kurdish villages in Iraq in the 1920s - long before Saddam Hussein was ever heard of. How ironical that they should now pose as the "friends of the Kurds"!

Imperialism and the Kurdish question

There is little doubt that America has the military might to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In the last analysis, they could probably do this even without the protective cover of a multilateral umbrella. However, that would carry huge political costs. Even if they can impose a puppet regime in Baghdad, as they have done in Kabul, the result would be only more instability and chaos.

Recently Washington took the unprecedented step of receiving the two main Iraqi Kurdish leaders, Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, with full honours. The intention is therefore quite clear: to use the Iraqi Kurds in the same way that they used the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, as cannon-fodder to take on America's enemy on the ground and thus spare the US army the painful necessity of doing the fighting. But in the first place the Kurds are no match for the Iraqi army, and in the second, by stirring up Kurdish nationalism, the USA is creating new and explosive contradictions in the region.

Having aroused the Kurds with the promise of satisfying their national aspirations, the Americans will not find it easy to fob them off with something less than a state. On the other hand, any suggestion of an independent Kurdish state would be anathema to Turkey, America's second most important ally in the region after Israel. The ailing Turkish prime minister Ecevit has already made this quite clear.

Marxists stand firmly for the defence of the right of the Kurdish people to a homeland of their own. But this can only be achieved by revolutionary means, and in the framework of a struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the formation of a socialist federation of the Middle East. However, for the imperialists the right of self- determination is just so much small change in their cynical calculations. The idea that the Kurds could get self-determination on the basis of American bayonets is false and reactionary through and through.

In general, what is important is not only what is said, but who says it, by what means and for what purpose. When the US imperialists affirm that they are for the self-determination of the Kurds or Palestinians, we do not believe it. Rather we are convinced that these are just cynical manoeuvres to trick world opinion and to strengthen the position and further the interests of US imperialism in the region.

By placing themselves at the disposal of Washington, the Kurdish leaders do not further the interests of their people but quite the opposite. Bush does not intend to give the Kurds their national rights, but only to use them as cannon fodder. Much more important for America is the friendship of Turkey, the bitterest foe of the Kurdish people, and the principal ally of the USA in the region. Washington knows very well that America needs the Turkish bases at Divarbakir and especially Incerlik, which has been used by the American and British air forces to enforce the so-called no fly zone in northern Iraq.

Recently the rival Kurdish groups of Barzani and Talabani reached an agreement after years of infighting. Sensing that they will get backing and arms from the USA, they are euphoric. But euphoria is a bad councillor in such a serious situation. In an interview in the German newspaper Die Zeit, Barzani stated that the North of Iraq would become the graveyard of any Turkish soldiers who tried to intervene there. The effect of these words in Ankara can be imagined. Ecevit replied with a furious declaration to the effect that Turkey would never allow the setting up of a Kurdish state, and the unfortunate Barzani had to retreat.

This little incident shows the real state of affairs. US imperialism has no intention of satisfying the national aspirations of either the Kurds or Palestinians (the latest demagogy about a Palestinian state is meant to keep the Arab regimes quiet while Iraq is pulverized). We do not know what secret deals are being done in Washington, but that such deals exist is beyond any doubt. The bandits are dividing the living body of Iraq even before that country has been defeated. Not only are Russia and France threatened with exclusion from Iraqi oil, but Turkey is almost certainly being offered possession of the Kirkuk and Mosel oilfields in northern Iraq as the price of collaboration. But these oilfields are inside an area that the Kurds regard as their own. How does an independent Kurdish state fit in with these plans? The answer is that it does not.

On the verge of the abyss

During the negotiations between the representatives of German imperialism and the Bolsheviks at Brest-Litovsk, Leon Trotsky attempted to gain time by spinning out the peace talks, while making revolutionary speeches aimed at the German and Austrian workers over the heads of the generals and diplomats. At a given moment, the German general Hoffmann, as a sign of impatience, placed his boots on the table when Trotsky was speaking. As Trotsky later remarked, none of those present doubted that the only reality in the room was Hoffmann's boots.

Diplomacy plays no independent role in history, but is always the handmaiden of war. The present flurry of diplomatic activity in and around the UN is only the prelude to a war that is now virtually inevitable. Baghdad has repeatedly denied it possesses weapons of mass destruction. It has offered to allow inspectors back. But all this is to no avail. For every step back the Iraqis take, Bush will demand ten more. To entertain any illusions on this score would be naïve in the extreme.

There is no question of America dropping its declared aim of "regime change" in Iraq. After trumpeting this goal so loudly and for so long, to abandon it would be politically impossible for the Bush administration. With mid-term elections approaching, George W. is playing the war card as a means of securing his grip on power (or so he thinks). And the enthusiasm of his vice president is even more soundly based. Dick Cheney is a crook in the most literal sense of the word. He has accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars through corporate malfeasance and faces not only loss of office but possible criminal charges. Only by banging the war drums louder than anyone else can he drown out the cries for him to be put on trial.

The above reasons, of course, by no means exhaust the list of America's motivations for waging war on Iraq. Quite apart from the personal motives of Bush and Cheney, there is the question of America's new role as world policeman. The fall of the USSR, as we have explained many times, has meant that the USA enjoys a complete domination in a way that is unprecedented in world history. It now wishes to claim the right to intervene anywhere, waging war, bullying and forcing supposedly sovereign states to do what is wants.

The outcome of an invasion of Iraq is as yet uncertain. Napoleon pointed out that war is the most complicated of all equations. There are so many variables and imponderables that to predict the exact course of a war is virtually impossible. But as Napoleon also pointed out, morale is a very important element in this bloody equation. What is the real state of the morale of the Iraqi people and its armed forces? This is difficult to tell.

No doubt the Iraqi masses do not love Saddam Hussein, but they love the USA still less. Ten years of the monstrous economic embargo has ruined what was a fairly prosperous and cultured nation. It has been responsible for the deaths of over one million Iraqi children. At this very moment Iraqis are dying a slow death from cancer because the "civilized" West denies them access to the medicines and treatment they need. Poor battered, bleeding Iraq is now faced with the prospect of massive bombing that will further wreck their shattered infrastructure, killing and maiming thousands and pushing the country further into the abyss. Worse still, the Iraqi nation faces total extinction on the basis of division and dismemberment.

On this basis, it is possible that Iraqi resistance will be more determined than the Pentagon expects. It is quite possible that, in one form or another, the conflict can drag on for months or even years. However, this cannot be taken for granted. After the long years of war and suffering, the Iraqi people must be on the verge of exhaustion. The nature of the regime is also not such that it can easily call upon the people to make sacrifices in a bitter and unequal struggle. These are contradictory tendencies, the strength of which it is impossible to judge from a distance.

At any event, many military experts in the West are warning the Americans that the conflict in Iraq may be far more difficult, prolonged and costly than they anticipate. This is the opinion of an increasing number of former officers with experience of the Gulf war. For this reason, Bush would like others to do his fighting for him. The example of Afghanistan has induced some sections of the regime to believe that they can keep US casualties to a minimum by confining themselves to bombing from a great height, while making full use of "local forces" on the ground. The problem is that bombing from a great height will necessarily involve heavy civilian casualties, while the use of "local forces", like the Kurds, brings problems of its own.

An American adventure in Iraq poses a grave risk. The reaction of the regime to a US-led invasion is self-evident. Saddam Hussein will do almost everything to maintain himself in power. The reason is not hard to see. Defeat would mean almost certain death for Saddam Hussein and the ruling circle in Baghdad. While it is clear that the propaganda in the West systematically exaggerates the amount of "weapons of mass destruction" in his hands and the threat posed by them, it is equally clear that he must possess a certain amount of deadly weapons and the missiles to deliver them at least to Israel and other neighbouring countries. If he was faced with the prospect of imminent defeat and death, it seems likely that he would be prepared to use these weapons. The consequences for the peoples of the region are terrible. But this does not concern George W. Bush and his friends in the slightest.

In the end, no matter what the Iraqis do or say, they will be bombed mercilessly and then invaded. Indeed, even when seeming to appeal to the UN, Mr Bush made it abundantly clear that America has not ruled out unilateral action, should the UN fail to come up with a suitable decision (suitable to the USA, that is to say). This impression was reinforced by the draft Congressional resolution, on which a vote is expected before the mid-term elections in November. Both the UN speech and the resolution presented to the US congress carefully avoid any explicit reference to the administration's policy that Iraq must have a "regime change". But it is crystal clear that anything less than the overthrow of Saddam Hussein will not satisfy Mr George W. Bush.

A war against Iraq would be an imperialist war of aggression and plunder. The international labour movement must oppose it with every means at its disposal. In the end, even if the imperialists succeed in ousting Saddam Hussein and imposing an Iraqi puppet, nothing would be solved. The shock waves from such an earthquake would expand outwards, creating new instability everywhere. Over a period, the way will be prepared for revolutionary developments in the whole of the Middle East and on a world scale. George W. Bush will set in motion a chain reaction that will leap from one country to another. The final results will not be to his liking.