The resistance that we are seeing is not simply the act of a desperate regime. The fact that this regime is doomed is evident to everyone, and yet the people of Iraq are not moving to overthrow it. They see the main enemy as the invading imperialist armies. The latest spin on this from the TV screens is that there seems to be no forces ready to take on the US and British forces. Baghdad apparently seems to have no defences. But the more serious reporters can see what the US and British governments would like to hide from us.
Robert Fisk, who writes for The Independent, has described the real situation on the ground south of Baghdad. He says that anyone who has any doubts about the readiness of the Iraqi army to defend the city should take the road that leads south out of Baghdad. He describes mile after mile of trenches, defence canals, underground bunkers, hidden artillery and army divisions. According to Fisk he has never seen the Iraqi army so prepared for war since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war! He explains that the Iraqi military have become masters of disguise. He adds that the army does not seem at all weakened and ready to give up. Far from it! And he explains how this war is becoming more and more a war of national liberation.
"Few Iraqis doubt - even the ministers in Baghdad speak about this - that the Americans could, ultimately, occupy the country. They have the force and they have the weapons to smash their way into every city and rule the land by martial law. But can they make Iraqis submit to that rule? Unless the masses rise up as Bush and Blair hope, this is now a nationalist war against the most obvious kind of imperial power." (Robert Fisk writing in The Independent, April 1, 2003)
Whatever the US imperialists may think about the Iraqi people we can state quite clearly that they have an instinctive understanding of the nature of imperialism and they also have a long historical memory. They understand that the US and the British have not come to invade their country in the name of some abstract democratic principle. They have come to loot the resources and wealth of Iraq. They understand that it will be the Iraqi people who will pay for this. This opposition to US imperialism expresses itself in the form of national pride, of Iraqi nationalism. It is also arousing Arab nationalism across the whole of the Middle East. This is perfectly logical.
We have to distinguish between the nationalism of the powerful imperialist nations and that of the poor oppressed "underdeveloped" nations. The nationalism of the rich and powerful is an expression of the rapacious interests of the capitalist class that is out to exploit the peoples of the world. The nationalism of the peoples of the poor, underdeveloped and exploited nations is an expression of their anti-imperialism, and therefore it has a progressive content to it.
The people of Iraq have a long memory
Iraqi nationalism is no different. While it has undoubtedly been used in a reactionary way by Saddam Hussein, for example, to oppress the Kurdish minority in the north and the Shi'ites in the south, the situation that is now developing is completely different. In the present war there is a very strong element of national pride of the Iraqi people, who do not want to be victims of what amounts to a quasi-colonial domination on the part of the US. The fact that this is true is revealed by the reaction of the Shi'ites in the present war. They are not rising up and welcoming the invaders. This was supposed to happen in Basra, where the overwhelming majority of the population is Shi'ite. Instead Basra is resisting. The Shi'ites in Iraq also do not want to be dominated by a foreign imperialist power.
In the historical memory of the Iraqi people, like that of all the Arab peoples, Britain and America feature not as kind, friendly, democratic benefactors, but as bloodthirsty oppressors and exploiters. This goes back a long time, right to the very setting up of Iraq.
Iraq emerged as a state from the redivision of the world after the First World War. The borders of Iraq completely ignored the ethnic make up of the people living there, like so many of the former colonies. That explains why a large part of Kurdish territory was included within the borders of the new state. In so doing the British completely dashed any hope the Kurds may have had for an independent state. (By the way the leaders of the Kurds today, such as Talabani, are sowing illusions in the imperialists but they will be betrayed again, as they have been many times in the past.) The Kurds put up resistance to the manoeuvres of British imperialism at the time and they were rewarded for their struggles with poison gas from the British forces. Thus they fused into one what were three separate peoples, the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi'ites. This was done in the name of British commercial and strategic interests. This set up was to be a source of conflict for years to come.
However, it is not necessary to go back to the 1920s to see the cruel tricks that imperialism has played on the peoples of Iraq. In the 1980s western imperialism backed and supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. That was because the Iranian regime was then seen as the greater threat to the interests of imperialism within the region. In the Iran-Iraq war Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Iranian troops. Towards the end of that war there was the notorious gassing of 5,000 Kurds in Halabja.
Official US comments at the time were that the Iranians might have been responsible! We can see that this same method of blatantly denying the obvious and attempting to shift the blame is being used today. The missiles that recently hit two marketplaces in Baghdad "may not be US but Iraqi anti-aircraft rockets that have gone off target"! A few months after the attack on Halabja a further 100,000 Kurds were gassed in the so-called Operation Anfal. Donald Rumsfeld (today's US Secretary of Defence), and other members of George W Bush's present administration, were then instrumental in covering up these atrocities and consciously lied about what was going on. The then Thatcher government in Britain also had no qualms in squandering a billion pounds on backing Saddam Hussein.
It was only when he attacked and invaded Kuwait in 1990 that the west turned on him. That was because by combining Kuwait with Iraq he would have had control of at least 20% of the known world oil reserves. The last Gulf War was not about defending "poor little Kuwait". It was about defending the economic and strategic interests of imperialism in the region.
The betrayal of 1991
If anyone had any doubts about this it would suffice to recall what happened to the Kurds in the North and the Shi'ites in the South. The US troops across the border in Kuwait sat silently while Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard crushed the revolt of these peoples in blood. The Iraqi people have not forgotten all this and this is playing a key role in determining their attitude to the invading US and British troops today. This is particularly evident in Basra.
As Major General Abd al-Ameer Abaees pointed out recently, "In 1991 we rose up because we thought Saddam's regime had collapsed. The Americans had promised they would help us, but they didn't. When Saddam sent armoured cars to crush the people, American planes were flying above. They watched as our people were killed. The Iraqi people no longer trust the Americans." (Major General Abd al-Ameer Abaees served in the Iraqi army. He led the uprising in the Diwaniya area of southern Iraq in 1991. We are quoting from an article he wrote for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Iraqi Crisis Report, No 7, March 24, 2003).
Then there was more than a decade of sanctions imposed on Iraq, thanks mainly to US and British pressure inside the UN. As a result income levels in Iraq are now one tenth of what they were in 1980. One quarter of Iraqi children go hungry. Up to a million have died since sanctions were imposed!
This treatment of Iraq over a period of more than a decade is proof enough to the people of Iraq that this war is not about terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi people, whatever they may think of the regime, know full well that it has never had anything to do with the al-Qaeda terrorist network. It is a lay regime that has been in conflict with the fundamentalists. It is a fact that Bin Laden would like to see the end of Saddam Hussein.
The decision to attack Iraq did not mature after the September 11 events. It is common knowledge that as far back as 1997 Rumsfeld and Cheney had been involved in the so-called 'Project for a New American Century'. Those who made up the Project are now mostly members of the Bush administration. Apart from Rumsfeld and Cheney (Defence Secretary and Chief of Staff, respectively) there were Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad, (the latter was Special Envoy to Iraq and also used to work for the Unocol Oil Company). A key plank in this 'Project' was control of Middle East oil resources, and this was to be achieved through the occupation of Iraq. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait allowed them to portray Saddam Hussein's regime as the biggest "threat to security in the region."
However, their lobbying of Clinton failed to get any results, but a few months into the Bush administration they started to take steps to implement their plans. From the experience of the behaviour of the OPEC countries in the 1970s they had drawn the conclusion that the US must have direct control over the largest known world oil reserves. These are to be found in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Thus they cooked up the excuse of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq suddenly become a threat to the security of the US (and Britain).
The future of Iraq under imperialist domination
Thus the past record of imperialism is quite clear. But their plans for the future of Iraq are also very clear. The Bush administration have made it abundantly obvious that what will follow a US-British victory in Iraq will not be a democratic regime. Blair is trying to reassure us all that Iraq will be governed by the Iraqi people. But Bush is planning to impose a military governor, who will most likely be General Tommy Franks who is presently in charge of military operations.
The Guardian (April 1, 2003) published an article with the headline 'US draws up secret plan to impose regime on Iraq'. The fact is that the plan was not so secret as this information was easily available right from the beginning. But it does add some interesting details: "Under the plan, the government will consist of 23 ministries, each headed by an American. Every ministry will also have four Iraqi advisers appointed by the Americans… The government will take over Iraq city by city. Areas declared "liberated" by General Tommy Franks will be transferred to the temporary government under the overall control of Jay Garner, the former US general appointed to head a military occupation of Iraq." And the report also adds that, "In anticipation of the Baghdad regime's fall, members of this interim government have begun arriving in Kuwait."
This confirms without any shred of doubt that they are not going to hand over Iraq to its people. When the American forces reached Umm Qasr they raised the American flag in the style of 18th and 19th century colonisers. This little act showed their real intentions. Of course, they pulled it down very quickly when it was pointed out to them that this was not the done thing, that it would give the Iraqi people "the impression" (?) that the US were coming as colonisers. The Iraqi people must sense what is about to happen to their country, once the US manage to take over.
The true position was let out in a statement by Ahmed Chalabi of the so-called Iraq National Congress. This is an organisation with no popular support inside Iraq. It counts totally on western backing. Chalabi stated that "American companies will have a big shot at Iraq oil…" Is it any coincidence that Rumsfeld had indicated that Chalabi was the man they were hoping to impose on the Iraqi people once Saddam Hussein was overthrown?
The Iraqi National Congress would be the ideal candidate to play the role of "democratic government" of Iraq. But now it seems that the US administration does not trust even such a lackey as Chalabi and have decided to impose their own direct rule through the likes of General Franks and our friend Garner! This too is revealing. Even the toadies of the Iraq National Congress, who would be only too willing to serve the interests of imperialism (of course, in exchange for a nice cosy, well paid position) can see that they have no chance of gaining any influence with the Iraqi people if they are seen as backing the present invasion. They will be seen as mere collaborators with the enemy that is destroying their country.
It is going to take some time before the imperialists will be able to rule Iraq by proxy through stooges like Chalabi. Even when, and if, this "government of the people of Iraq" eventually is established it will not be a genuine expression of their wishes. It will be a puppet regime completely controlled by the imperialists. They will act only in the interests of imperialism and they will not be able to consolidate genuine mass support.
A military governor
That explains why for now the prospects are that Iraq will be governed in the immediate aftermath of the war by the military governor, General Franks. At his side will be a so-called "co-ordinator of civilian administration". The candidate for this job is Jay Garner, a retired US general. The Pentagon have already set up the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which he will lead. They had actually set it up before they had even started the destruction of Iraq! Garner has very close ties with Donald Rumsfeld. In fact it was Rumsfeld who has given him his latest position!
Garner works for a company that specialises in making missile systems that are presently being used by the US forces in Iraq! So it is a bit like putting a wolf in charge of looking after the sheep! The task of this principled gentleman will not be that of providing the Iraqi people with what they need. How can anyone who has even an ounce of grey cells between their ears imagine that such a thing could be?
Bush and his cronies, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and the like, have a very clear philosophy: we are providing the military forces, we are spending billions of dollars on occupying Iraq, therefore it is our companies that are going to benefit from this war. And when we say "our companies" in some cases this literally means "our". Halliburton is a big US conglomerate with strong links to the Republican Party. Dick Cheney, the present Vice-President of the USA was once the head of this company.
Big profits to be made
Halliburton can make a lot of money from war. It has the ability to build roads, bridges and even camps for the US military. According to Michael Urban of the Deutsche Bank, Halliburton and the other companies that will be involved in Iraq, are set to make $3 billion from their operations there. That may explain why Halliburton shares are going against the general trend (which is downwards). Since the beginning of this year their value has risen by more than 11%. You can almost feel the grubby hand of the coupon clipper sitting in some office in the US coldly calculating how much profit Halliburton is going to make from the death and destruction which is being inflicted on the Iraqi people.
A subsidiary of Halliburton has already secured a contract to put out burning oil wells. Halliburton, together with Bechtel (also with links to the Republican party) have already been put on a shortlist of US companies that are up for $900 million worth of contracts to rebuild Iraq. And who will be in charge of handing out these contracts? You guessed it, Garner himself.
It is also worth noting which kind of US companies are getting the contracts. Even before the Umm Qasr seaport had been finally taken, the $4.8 million contract to run the port was awarded to Stevedoring Services of America (SSA). This is the very same company that was involved in the bitter dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) last year in the West Coast ports of the United States. The SSA is known as a union-busting company. Bush came to its aid last year by imposing the Taft-Hartley Act, forcing the dockworkers back to work. Now it is being further aided by Bush by being let in on the lucrative contracts that are up for grabs in Iraq. The SSA apparently has no experience of operating in war torn zones. But it does have experience in another kind of war, the class war. For them fighting US workers at home or workers in Iraq makes no difference. They will refuse to grant union rights in both countries.
What this amounts to is literally placing the US military-industrial complex in charge of running Iraq. This means all the contracts will be handed out to pro-Bush companies that will suck the very lifeblood out of the Iraqi people. They will go in and privatise the oil industry, of course to the benefit of US oil companies. (By the way, this explains the fury of the French and Russians in particular. They are the ones who are going to lose out the most. The conflict in the UN was never about whether it was a "just war", or other such naive concepts).
In the past Iraq had managed to build "an impressive state" which offered its people "generous state services" (as even the reactionary British journal, The Economist, had to admit in its March 8, edition). Once the US imperialists get their grubby hands on the resources of Iraq there will be no room for any kind of welfare state or social services. The prime task will be to maximise profits for the US barons. Iraq is already bankrupt. It has debts of between $60 billion and $140 billion. They will no doubt get Iraq to "pay in kind" by exporting huge amounts of capital out of Iraq.
While we are on this subject, there is an amusing side to all this. The rapaciousness of the US imperialists is shown in their attitude to their British "allies". The British Trade Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has been lobbying the US government to let British based companies have a share of the cake. As a result they have managed to get a British deputy co-ordinator to stand at Garner's side. In spite of this it does look like British companies are going to gain very little from the whole operation. The US corporations are intent on taking all. They are the ones who will decide, and thus the British companies can only expect to get a few crumbs. Blair will get what an obedient dog deserves, the scraps from the table of his master.
These facts show that their aim is to install a quasi-colonial puppet regime in Iraq. This will become their base from which to dominate the whole of the region. They have plans to privatise the Iraqi oil industry. We can make an intelligent guess as to which companies will get the biggest share of this industry! Once they have output back up to its full potential they will be able to set levels of production and prices. the idea is that that they are not going to be put in a position where the oil-producing countries can hold the industrialised west to ransom!
Brazen imperialist robbery
Thus far from benefiting the Iraqi people this whole operation will amount to brazen imperialist robbery of their resources. On this basis how can the Iraqi people hope for a genuine development of their economy? How can they hope that the resources of their country will be used to provide a modern education system for their children, an efficient health care system for the sick and in general all the attributes of a modern infrastructure that would make for a civilised existence? No, first they are going to be bombed. Their roads, schools, industries will be destroyed by the imperialists. Then the US corporations are going to come in and make huge profits from "reconstruction" and it will be Iraqi oil that will pay for all this.
That is why the people of Iraq are fighting and resisting. Rumsfeld is demanding nothing short of total surrender. But the Iraqi people are not going to lie down without a fight. It is the duty of all genuine socialists and of all workers of all countries to support the Iraqi people in their struggle for national independence. In the end the US-British war machine may well triumph. But it will be at a great price, especially for the Iraqi people.
We can quote Major General Abd al-Ameer Abaees again, "I believe the allies will succeed in getting rid of Saddam if their strategy is continuous bombardment of Baghdad. But it will be a catastrophe if they try to enter Baghdad by force. The 1991 uprising destroyed approximately 10 per cent of the infrastructure of the South. Imagine what the destruction to Baghdad would be in 2003."
Already hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed, and possibly thousands of their soldiers. To take Basra, Baghdad and the other cities will involve terrible street fighting. The US and British forces will also suffer big losses. This is the Barbarism that Marx warned about.
However, the suffering will not end with the final occupation of Iraq. The people of Iraq face the prospect of years of suffering at the hands of US imperialism. But like all peoples they will not accept imperialist rule. They will resist. That explains why Pentagon experts are already saying that they may have to leave 100,000 troops stationed in Iraq for as long as two years. Other American military experts say they may have to stay for as long as five years.
The cost of occupying Iraq
The cost of keeping 100,000 US troops stationed there would be $25 billion. This is equivalent to the whole of one year of Iraqi GDP. The cost of overall reconstruction has been calculated as being around $100 billion. Where is this going to come from? Currently Iraq earns $15 billion a year from oil exports. For Iraq to begin to finance its own development it would need to more than double its present level of oil exports. To achieve this it would need to invest at least a further $20 billion and it would take ten years to achieve. All this of course, without taking into account the payments it will have to make to service its present debt. Thus it would in reality be decades, in the most optimistic of scenarios, before the Iraqi people could even begin to hope in genuine economic development and prosperity. To this we need to add the fact that if the US get their hands on Iraqi oil they will want to increase production and get the general price of oil down. So all the above calculations would have to be redone upwards.
What all this means is that they intend to place the Iraqi people in the same situation that the Palestinians have had to endure for more than 50 years. They will be deprived of the right to self-determination. They will be ruled by an occupying army and they will be condemned to long-lasting poverty and destitution.
Thus an anti-imperialist struggle for national liberation on the part of the Iraqi people is what is being prepared, and this will continue for years. US imperialism is sowing the seeds of even bigger conflicts in the future. Their domination and rule over Iraq will create the conditions in which Islamic fundamentalism can grow. These fundamentalists will be able to hijack the genuine anti-imperialist feelings of the Iraqi masses and divert them along reactionary lines. They claim this is a war on terrorism, but what they are doing is creating a breeding ground for increased terrorism. Bin Laden must be laughing heartily!
In the coming period the attention of the masses will be concentrated on the struggle against imperialism. It is the duty of all genuine socialists to support this struggle of the Iraqi people. The tragedy is that there is no genuine workers' alternative that can direct this movement and give it a genuine proletarian content. This vacuum leaves room for reactionary Islamic fundamentalism to develop. However, just across the border in Iran another form of Islamic fundamentalism has been in power fro more than two decades. They have solved none of the pressing problems of the Iranian masses. In the recent period there have been movements of the youth, in particular of the students, and these have inevitably come up against the mullahs in power. The workers of Iran have also suffered terribly under the regime of these mullahs. The Iraqi workers and youth must not forget this and they must draw all the necessary conclusions.
So long as capitalism and imperialism dominate the Middle East there will be no solution to the problems faced by the peoples of this region. The solutions to their problems are to be found on the road of the class struggle, socialism and internationalism. The region is rich in resources. There is no reason why these people should live in poverty and destitution. The problem is that the resources are controlled by the imperialists and their local corrupt stooges. The task is to overthrow all these reactionary regimes, take the resources and place them under the control of the workers of all these countries. That can only be achieved through the building of a Socialist Federation of the whole of the Middle East.