Regional Destabilization…Terrorist Backlash…Ethnic Conflict…Soaring Costs — US Victory in Iraq?

This is an abridged editorial from issue #74 of Socialism Today, the magazine of the Socialist Party (the British section of the Committee for a Workers’ International):

Saddam’s regime crumbled under the impact of the US-British invasion as scenes of Saddam’s statues being torn down were beamed around the world to convey images of “liberation.”

But covering the tottering monument with the Stars and Stripes also signaled the arrival of an occupying power. The crowds on the streets in Baghdad were not a tidal wave of celebration. Most Iraqis were relieved at the end of the dictatorship, but they fear a foreign occupation. After years of deprivation imposed by Western economic sanctions, they have paid a heavy human price during this intense, three-week invasion.

The USA’s relatively easy victory over Iraq refutes the claim that Saddam’s regime threatened military disaster, especially the absurd fantasy that Saddam’s weapons posed an immediate threat to the US homeland itself. No chemical weapons were used, and it remains to be seen whether useable weapons of mass destruction will be found. But the invasion brought death to thousands of innocent men, women and children, and has inflicted horrendous wounds on tens of thousands. Fiendish products of modern technology, such as cluster bombs, were used with complete disregard for human life. Basic services have collapsed. Millions are without water, electricity, telephones, and medical facilities. There has been widespread looting by gangs and the poor, particularly of the massive villas of Saddam’s cronies, public buildings and even some hospitals.

Pentagon planners were evidently not prepared for this social collapse. They put in place no resources and personnel to provide even the most the basic life support to the population they supposedly “liberated.” Instead, US imperialism was already implementing plans to loot the country’s oil wealth and profit from rebuilding what it had only just destroyed. Bush and the Pentagon hawks claim that their victory vindicates their military tactics and demonstrates the USA’s unchallengeable military supremacy. But their real problems in Iraq are only just beginning. Over the next period they will face incalculable repercussions from their military aggression.

The Middle East will become even more volatile as a result of the war on Iraq. The Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk and Mosul, at the center of Iraq’s second-biggest oil field, has the potential to trigger armed intervention by the Turkish regime, igniting a war within a war. The lives of Americans, contrary to Bush’s claims, will now be less safe. As Egyptian President Mubarak warned: “If there is one bin Laden now, there will be 100 bin Ladens afterwards.”

A heavy economic penalty will be levied on the US working class. As Bush asked Congress for another $50 billion installment for the war, Congress cut $20 billion from the war veterans’ budget over the next 20 years and Bush cut $172 million from schools for children of military personnel (The Guardian, 4/2/03). At the moment Bush may be riding high, but the downward slide of the US economy makes it far from certain that he can translate military success into re-election in 2004.

Pre-emptive military action by the US against Iraq marks a turning point in world relations. But so, too, does February 15 – the largest day of world-wide protests in history with perhaps 30 million protestors. February 15 and the many other mass demonstrations throughout the world did not stop the war, but nevertheless shook capitalist leaders everywhere. From the massive anti-war movement that emerged in just a few short months will come a new generation of working-class activists and young people who fight against war and its capitalist perpetrators and engage in the struggle for a socialist society.

A One-Sided War
Saddam’s regime collapsed after a very one-sided military struggle. The mightiest superpower in history confronted an isolated, third-world regime with outdated, depleted resources.

Yet the US invasion was not the expected “cakewalk,” as US field commanders were forced to admit. There was no military coup against Saddam nor any uprising to greet the invaders. At one point the leading US field commander General Wallace publicly stated that the resistance was much stronger than they had expected. “The enemy we are fighting,” he said, “is different to the one we’d war-gamed against.”

The US high-risk military tactics succeeded only because of the rotten character of Saddam’s regime. It would have been entirely different if the US faced forces backed by mass, popular support. The majority adopted a passive, wait-and-see attitude. There was deep hostility towards Saddam’s regime, but there was a very ambivalent mood towards the invading forces. With no mass resistance, the military balance of forces predetermined a US victory, with only the timing and human cost in question.

Weary with two decades of war and deprivation, the majority of the population may welcome the US role in overthrowing Saddam. But there is deep suspicion of the US. The CIA, after all, supported the coup that brought Saddam to power in the first place. The US armed Saddam during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and hypocritically turned a blind eye at that time to his use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and the Kurds in Northern Iraq. There is universal understanding, moreover, that the US wants to get its hands on Iraq’s oil wealth. There will also be resentment at the thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of serious injuries. There will be no mass support for a prolonged US occupation, and the longer it lasts the stronger will be the resistance.

Organizing the Occupation
The US wants strategic control over the Middle East’s oil reserves, the world’s biggest and cheapest. Direct control of Iraqi oil, the US calculates, will allow it to smash the power of OPEC and undermine the leverage of states like Saudi Arabia in world oil markets. This, they hope, will open up a new era of cheap oil, and, they imagine, revive the world capitalist economy (though oil at $10/barrel would spell disaster for most oil-producing states).

The US also wants to open up Iraqi industries and markets to US corporations. They have already begun by awarding “reconstruction” contracts to a handful of US companies mostly connected with the Republican Party. The US will enforce rapid de-nationalization of the large sections of Iraq’s nationalized industry, allowing US and perhaps other Western companies to take over large sections of Iraq’s economy.

US imperialism undoubtedly hopes post-war Iraq will serve as a key point of military influence in the region by establishing permanent US military bases and tipping the regional balance of power in favor of the US and its key regional ally, Israel.

To achieve these aims US imperialism needs a “reliable” pro-US regime. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the so-called “Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance” is headed by an ex-general and arms dealer, Jay Garner. His administration will operate under the authority of the regional military commander, Tommy Franks, with 23 US “ministers” assisted by Iraqi “advisors.” The real proconsul of occupied Iraq will be the US Defense Secretary, Rumsfeld.

The composition of the transitional government has brought new divisions within the Bush regime, along the same lines as the pre-war split between the Pentagon and the State Department. The Pentagon hawks, led by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, are pushing for their nominees, including former CIA director James Woolsey and Ahmed Chalabi. This is resisted by the State Department, the CIA, and Colin Powell – more far-sighted strategists of US imperialism who are alarmed at the simplistic, fanatical doctrine of the Bush hawks. They fear that the appearance of a US colonial administration and a stooge government will undermine US imperialism.

Role of the UN?
France, Russia, and Germany are using the United Nations issue as a lever to pursue their own imperialistic interests within the transitional regime. Attempting to maintain their own spheres of influence, these powers see the UN framework as a means of checking the actions of US imperialism.

Under pressure from Blair, who desperately needs UN cover in order to legitimize his own support for the US, Bush welcomed the UN to provide “immediate humanitarian assistance.” (The Pentagon has shown no desire for its military forces to be tied up with humanitarian tasks.) But Bush spoke merely of seeking a new Security Council resolution to “endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq.” This is simply camouflage for the USA’s determination to dictate the form of the transition.

Iraq’s future government, claimed Wolfowitz, would be “chosen and run by Iraqis,” and would “not [be] a colonial administration or a UN administration or run in any way by foreigners” (International Herald Tribune, 4/7/03). However, at the same time Wolfowitz was saying this, the US was flying Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles into Southern Iraq.

Chalabi comes from a prominent ruling-class family under the British-installed monarchy. He was also convicted in Jordan for a multi-million dollar fraud. The hawks recognize that, in this period, they cannot maintain direct colonial rule, but with the collaboration of stooges like Chalabi, the US will work to establish a client regime behind the facade of parliamentary forms.

A New Client Regime
The US plans to purge the top layer of Saddam’s regime, but they are trying to salvage the bureaucracy and most of the army and police as the basis for a new, reconstituted state apparatus. The US will build up the military under US direction, and favored political leaders will be supported, financed as “agents of influence” for the US. In time, the US no doubt plans to hold elections in an attempt to legitimize a new regime. Financial support, business links, and control of the media will be used to attempt to ensure that US-backed forces win power through any election. US-backed personalities and parties will have an enormous advantage given the destruction of independent parties and trade unions under Saddam’s regime, and the absence of information and free discussion.

In trying to establish a client regime, however, US imperialism faces the problem of the ethnic/religious make-up of the Iraq. Saddam’s regime was based on the Sunni religious minority, while the Shia form the oppressed religious majority. A straightforward, direct election would result in a Shia government. That would strengthen the influence of the Shia-based Iranian regime in Iraq, the last thing the US wants, as it regards Iran as a second member of the “axis of evil.”

In order to “preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq,” in other words to establish a national capitalist state based on the Sunni minority, the US is likely to attempt to impose a federal constitution prior to any elections being held. The US will attempt to maintain a balance between Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds in the main state institutions (the presidency, ministries, parliament, etc.). Such a federal set-up would in reality be a power-sharing deal, mainly between the traditional clan and religious leaders of Iraq’s main religious and ethnic groups. It would not satisfy popular aspirations or even the particular demands of the different religious/ethnic groups. Resting on a weak national capitalism, dominated by imperialism, a new federal state would not solve Iraq’s social-economic problems. Moreover, the regimes of neighboring states – Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia – will all try to exploit their influence over different sections of the Iraqi population to push their own interests.

The US will attempt to cultivate friends through bribery and create a client capitalist ruling class. But the US will not substantially raise living standards for the whole population. The US will face, over a period of time, terrorist attacks and growing opposition to US domination and any pro-US regime. Anger will grow at the looting of oil and other resources by US corporations and their Iraqi agents. A new generation of workers and youth will begin to rebuild the workers’ organizations destroyed by Saddam’s regime and to move into struggle to defend their class interests against imperialism, class oppression, and right-wing Islamic fundamentalism.

Growing Arab Anger
The initial Iraqi resistance to the US-British invasion aroused feelings of pride throughout the Arab states. Now there is a sense of humiliation and rage at yet another defeat inflicted on the Arab people.

Many of the Arab regimes fear that they will come under increasing pressure from the US, or even face the threat of US military intervention. They are even more afraid, however, of the angry mood on the Arab street. Mass anti-war demonstrations in the Arab states, which Arab regimes were forced to tolerate, were directed as much against these repressive regimes as against US intervention. There appears to be no relief from extreme economic and social crisis. There is outrage at the regimes’ collaboration with the US. Mubarak allowed US warships through the Suez Canal, and the Saudi rulers permitted the US to direct its air strikes from their territory. Moreover, military action against Iraq is seen throughout the Arab states as a move to strengthen the Israeli state, and Sharon’s right-wing leadership.

Far from stabilizing Iraq and the region and inaugurating a new era of free-market capitalism and liberal democracy, as the Washington neo-conservatives imagine, the US occupation of Iraq will provoke instability, social upheaval, and convulsive political changes. It has increased the possibility of right-wing Islamic forces coming to power in states like Saudi Arabia – the very opposite result from that intended by the Bush regime.

Neo-Conservative Strategy
The Bush hawks have made it clear that they regard the invasion of Iraq, the first war conducted under their new doctrine of pre-emptive war, as “a demonstration conflict, an experiment in forcible disarmament” (NY Times, 4/7/03). James Woolsey, the former CIA director (1993-95) who is the Pentagon’s choice as post-war Iraqi minister of information, proclaimed that the US has (following the “third world war,” the 1945-90 cold war) now engaged in a “fourth world war… More than a war against terrorism, this is a war to extend democracy to those parts of the Arab and Muslim world that threaten the liberal civilization we worked to build and defend throughout the 20th century.” Having dealt with the “Ba’athist fascists,” the US will now confront Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Libya, which all “sponsor and assist terrorism…[and] have sought weapons of mass destruction” (The Guardian, 4/8/03).

The Taliban regime was overthrown, but Karzai is shaky, and Afghanistan is still torn by conflict. The conflict between India and Pakistan could flare up again at any time, with the danger of nuclear exchanges. Bush’s repudiation of the “sunshine” policy initiated by the previous South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, has led to a confrontation with North Korea, which has a massive conventional arsenal and possibly nuclear weapons. Even before consolidating its grip on Iraq, Rumsfeld was threatening action against Syria.

On the basis of the diseased capitalist economic system, we unavoidably face growing barbarism and war on a global scale, not the “freedom” and “liberal civilization” promised by fanatics like Woolsey. It is urgent that we build a world-wide working class movement for the socialist transformation of society to lift humanity out of the mine-strewn quagmire of capitalism.