The first shots in the war against Iraq

Last night up to a hundred British and American planes have attacked Iraqi air defences 240 miles west of Baghdad, alleging that their planes came under attack by Iraq. It is self-evident that the latest military operation was an act of unprovoked aggression and a calculated provocation.

Last night up to a hundred British and American planes have attacked Iraqi air defences outside the no-fly zone. The attack was directed against an air defence command and control facility at a military airfield 240 miles west of Baghdad.

The British and Americans have alleged that one of their patrols in the no-fly zone was attacked. But no serious person will believe that Iraq, threatened with invasion by the world's only super power, would willingly attack its planes. The whole thing is a self-evident provocation. We warned about this in our last article, The Lull Before the Storm. That was on Monday. By the end of the week, they had already acted exactly on the lines we had predicted.

The raid was the 35th air strike reported this year by the Anglo-American coalition put together to patrol zones in the north and south of Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War. However, the excuse that this was just a normal exercise over the no-fly zone is nonsense.

The no-fly zones are supposed, for "humanitarian purposes", to "defend" the civilian population of certain areas against attacks from the forces of Saddam Hussein. US central command has alleged there had been more than 130 Iraqi attacks against American aircraft this year. The Iraqis are accused of - defending their own country. A terrible crime! But no concrete details of such acts have so far been forthcoming.

It is self-evident that the latest military operation was an act of unprovoked aggression and a calculated provocation. The fact that Iraqi air defences were targeted speaks for itself. This is precisely the kind of attack one would expect to see as part of the preparations for an invasion. It is partly an attempt to weaken Iraq's already damaged defences.

On the other hand, the fact that the target was clearly outside the "no-fly zone" (an arbitrary zone, the declaration of which was in itself an act of aggression against a supposedly sovereign state) was obviously an attempt to provoke the Iraqis into military resistance, which would then serve as a pretext for invasion. This is precisely what we meant when we wrote a few days ago:

"What we are witnessing here are the first shots in the war against Iraq. The events of the last 24 hours underline the fact that the USA has decided to launch a war, presenting the world with a fait accompli."

Form and substance

For months, George W. Bush has maintained a studied silence about Iraq until he had decided what to do. Now he has spoken out with the most eloquent language: the language of bullets and high explosive bombs

The president, stung by the rising chorus of dissent at home and abroad, had promised leaders of Congress that he would ask for congressional approval, presumably for the use of force. He has also said he would consult the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council and he has promised to lay out in more detail his case for wanting to remove Saddam Hussein in a speech to the UN's General Assembly on September 12.

Now we see the worth of these promises. With the most calculated cynicism, Bush has ordered the US air force to commence hostilities against Iraq.

Blair's pernicious role

The present act of aggression has been prepared in the last few days by the usual manoeuvres on the diplomatic front. The most active player in this vulgar farce is, of course, Tony Blair, who as always is greedy for the applause of his main audience in Washington.

George W. is in need of a friend in these trying moments, and therefore remembered the existence of Tony Blair, whom he kindly invited for "consultations" (read: marching orders) last weekend. The invitation was accepted with alacrity, and once again Mr Blair found himself catapulted onto the world stage - a role that suits him better than any other in life.

In the last few days, when most members of the Westminster parliament are still away on holiday, Britain's prime minister has been scurrying from one capital to another to drum up support for the US cause. The decision of Bush to go to the UN is part of the same diplomatic game of softening up world public opinion. He himself has displayed a supreme indifference to public opinion at home, which is overwhelmingly hostile to a war against Iraq.

In today's Independent there is an article with the suggestive title "Blair willing to pay 'blood price'", which reproduces Blair's promise that Britain is ready to line up alongside America "when the shooting starts" in any US-led military assault against Iraq. These comments were made in a TV interview to be broadcast this Sunday, as President George Bush reiterated yesterday that the world "had been called into action" to tackle the menace of Saddam Hussein.

When asked by the gentlemen of the press if he was prepared to send troops and "pay the blood price" of Britain's special relationship with America, Mr Blair replied: "Yes. What's important too is at that moment of crisis, they don't need to know simply that you're giving general expressions of support and sympathy, I mean that's easy frankly.

"They need to know you are prepared to commit, are you prepared to be there, and when the shooting starts are you prepared to be there," he informed his audience, comfortable in the knowledge that he himself would not be required to face any bullets other than those fired by journalists and parliamentarians. These are occasionally painful, but only rarely fatal. The bombs that are falling on the people of Iraq, however, are made of real explosives.

Tony Blair's stand on Iraq has revealed the existence of deep fault lines within the Labour Party, which reach to the very highest levels. He is already facing a challenge to his authority from within his own Cabinet over the Iraq issue. Robin Cook, the Leader of the House, suggested that MPs should be allowed to vote on whether Britain would take military action.

But Mr Blair is deaf to all such proposals. He is determined to avoid a formal vote on this issue. The reason is clear. He is afraid of losing it. Blair has been warned by government whips that 100 Labour MPs could mount the biggest backbench rebellion since the party came to power in 1997. Such a position would force him to rely on the support of Tory MPs. A fitting position for Mr Blair to be in! In this fact alone we can see the outline of future crises and splits in the Labour Party.

Robin Cook's opposition is only lukewarm. He has insisted there was no "urgent case" for a recall of parliament, on the grounds that military action is neither imminent nor is it inevitable. This at a time when British warplanes have already started bombing military positions within Iraq! But Blair will face much more determined resistance from the rank-and-file.

How to win friends and influence people

Bush has clearly decided to remove Saddam Hussein, but seems to have not yet decided on the exact means. The vacillations and splits in the administration are the reflection of this fact. But the time for indecision is fast disappearing. At the first sound of bombs falling, most of the "allies" will fall into line, or else keep their heads down.

Some people believe that war is unlikely because public opinion in many countries is against it. This argument is fatally flawed. In a situation like this the mood can change very quickly - one way or the other. Moreover, when one controls the mass media, there are many ways of influencing public opinion. Even now most Americans say they support attacking Iraq. Now Democratic congressional leaders, having had "consultations" with President Bush are suggesting they might well back an authorisation of the use of force. With the commencement of hostilities, the anti-war party in congress will swiftly be reduced to silence - at least at first.

The new tactic of Washington is to pretend to engage in "debate and consultation" while systematically bringing forward the preparations for war. The return of UN weapons inspectors is now said to be an essential first step towards ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. But this is just an empty manoeuvre intended to fool world public opinion concerning America's real intentions.

Vive-president Cheney has insisted the inspectors would merely provide "false comfort". That is obviously right. The business about the inspectors is pointless because the song and dance about "weapons of mass destruction" is merely the pretext, not the reason for declaring war on Iraq. The only reason Bush is prepared to participate in this charade is that American allies might agree to an attack only if they had first tried the path of reintroducing the "inspectors".

There is still less reason for believing that Bush will be halted by opposition from Europe. The European allies can easily be dealt with by making a few formal "concessions", such as going to the UN, which Bush now says he will do. He will consult the permanent members of the Security Council, he says. It now seems that China may abstain (Beijing's interests are not directly involved). No doubt the Americans have also offered them something in return for their complicity.

The biggest problem was the danger of a Russian veto in the Security Council. But every problem has a solution! As part of the joint diplomatic offensive with Washington, Downing Street announced that Mr Blair would visit Moscow next month for talks with Vladimir Putin, the Russian President. He will seek a pledge that Russia will not veto a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq. His wish may well be granted. This is not because of Tony Blair's communications skills, but because Russia owes a lot of money. President Putin is fortunately a Man of Principle, and as such, will only sell himself for a suitably large quantity of dollars. But in the end, he is a "man one can talk to".

The Europeans can also be talked to - and even dictated to! Last weekend, the leaders of Europe met in Elsinore, Hamlet's castle in Denmark. But it now seems that the period of "to be or not to be" is over. The Europeans agreed that the UN should give Iraq an ultimatum: let the inspectors back in, or else. Baghdad has already replied to this, offering to accept the inspectors, but only if sanctions against Iraq are lifted.

Both sides know perfectly well that all these games have no real significance except for the effect they might have on public opinion. Washington has already made up its mind to attack, and Baghdad has made up its mind to defend itself. The rest is just so much hot air. Meanwhile President Bush has proclaimed September 11 will be designated Patriot Day, in honour of the more than 3,000 people killed by the terrorist attacks. By his actions, he is preparing the deaths of many more people - both Americans and Iraqis.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Tony Blair's leading stooge, will lead Britain's diplomatic efforts at the UN next week and, as a gesture to the non-existent Middle East peace process, will tour Israel and nearby Arab states in the autumn. This is truly the height of hypocrisy! The British government is actively supporting war against Iraq, and sends its planes to bomb that country's air defences, while preaching the virtues of peace, sweetness and light in the Middle East. If it were not so serious, it would be laughable.

The secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, urged Baghdad yesterday to readmit UN weapons inspectors, while the White House indicated that it will present a dossier on President Saddam's alleged arms build-up. But former president Jimmy Carter has added to criticism of the hawks, writing in the Washington Post that a unilateral war with Iraq is "is not the answer". He called for UN action to ensure unrestricted inspections, "but perhaps deliberately so, this has become less likely as we alienate our necessary allies."

Such appeals are of no real significance. The war machine has already started to roll and will push everything before it. Everything now points in the direction of war. The ruling clique in Washington has been encouraged by their apparent success in Afghanistan into believing that they are invincible. Leaving aside the fact that nothing has been resolved in Afghanistan, where the puppet Karzai was only saved from assassination by his American bodyguard yesterday), there is no analogy between Afghanistan and Iraq.

The dream of the US imperialists that they could use the Iraqi opposition to fight their battles for them is a patent absurdity. These squabbling bourgeois factions are not strong enough to fight their way out of a paper bag. They are a negligible quantity in the equation.

Any attempt to use the Kurds as a pawn in the struggle would meet with suspicion and hostility from Turkey, whose support is vital for the success of any US-sponsored war in Iraq. It would also imply the break-up of Iraq, which would be strongly resisted by all her neighbours, starting with Iran.

At the end of the day, most of the fighting will have to be done by American troops. And it will not be as easy as they seem to imagine. There is no analogy with the war ten years ago, when the Iraqi army was in practice an army of occupation in another country (Kuwait). The Iraqi people would be fighting a defensive war against a foreign invader. The Iraqi army, unlike the Taliban militias, is a serious fighting force. The conflict would be bloody and prolonged in time. American losses would far exceed anything we have seen for a long time.

Arab League foreign ministers have warned that a strike on Iraq would "open the gates of hell" in the Middle East. This is an expression of the terror felt by the pro-western Arab regimes at the convulsions that will sweep the region as the result of a war in Iraq. All the accumulated bitterness and anger will find a violent outlet. Just as the colossal pressures beneath the surface of the earth eventually find a weak spot in the terrestrial crust, erupting in an earthquake, so the corrupt Arab regimes will be threatened with violent overthrow.

An invasion of Iraq would therefore be pregnant with explosive consequences in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. It would soon give rise to an international anti-war movement such has not been seen since Vietnam. Sooner or later, it must have a powerful echo in the United States. We must be prepared!

September 6, 2002

Postscript: The wolf and the lamb

This fable, based on the original by the Greek slave Aesop, has been translated into many languages. I have taken the liberty of translating it from the splendid Russian version Volk i Yagnyonok, by the 18th century master of the genre, Krylov. No artistic merit is claimed for the translation. But the story conveys better than any amount of articles the reality of diplomacy, which is to find the means of turning the aggressor into the victim and vice-versa. The original version by Aesop ends with the conclusion: "Any excuse will serve a tyrant". Any similarity between these lines and the conduct of Britain and America in relation to a certain country in the Middle East, is of course, purely accidental. - Alan Woods.

The weak man to the strong is always wrong.
This is a fact that history knows full well
But here we’ll leave the history books alone.
It’s just a little story we now tell.

A lamb went out to drink one sunny day
And met a sorry fate, I’m sad to say.
A hungry wolf was standing by the brook
And gave our little lamb a greedy look.

To give his plan some element of reason,
He cried out (hiding his foul treason):
"How dare you, scoundrel, with your filthy snout
"Pollute my drink and spread the mud about?
"A heavy price for this you’ll surely pay.
"I’ll tear your head right off, and no delay!"

"Please sir," the lamb said, "may I just point out
"That I did not annoy you with my snout,
"Since I was drinking down the stream, not up,
"It was not me that stirred the bottom up."

"So I’m a liar then!" the wolf did roar.
"I’ve never heard such insolence before!
"And I recall last year you called me names.
"I don’t forget and nor do I play games."

"Have mercy, lord!" the lamb said, all forlorn.
" I’m six months old. Last year I was not born!
"It was not me, it must have been another!"
"It was your father then. If not, it was your brother!"

"I have no brothers, and my father’s dead."
"Let’s say it was your cousin’s fault instead!
"I know you sheep! You hate us wolves and so
"To stop you doing harm to us you know
"I must defend myself by ripping off your head."
"What have I done that you must see me dead?"

"Enough! Be silent!" said the wolf, "It’s time
To finish all this talk and go to dine.
The reason for your fate is plain, my sweet.
It’s simply this: its time for me to EAT."
He spoke and in the twinkling of an eye
The lamb was gone - and we all know just why.