Less than two months after George Bush proclaimed victory on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, it is becoming increasingly clear that his “war of liberation” has become a nightmare of occupation for Iraqis as the country descends into anarchy, political division and mass poverty.
Furthermore, the military aspect of the occupation suddenly appears not to be over. Thousands of US troops have been thrown into large-scale battles against a shadowy enemy possibly including elements of the deposed Ba’ath party and Arab fighters from other countries who have entered Iraq to take on the US forces. This could represent the first stages of a guerrilla resistance to the US occupation. As American casualties mount and the occupation continues to drain billions of dollars away from social services at home, opposition within the US to the occupation can grow.
While Iraq is clearly becoming an increasingly unsafe environment for US troops, it is truly terrifying for Iraqi civilians. In the weeks since the “cessation of hostilities,” hundreds of Iraqis have been shot dead in the capital, Baghdad, some by US troops, some in random gunfire, some by gangs of looters. This does not count the 18 protesters who were killed by American troops in the town of Falluja. Most recently, on June 18, two demonstrators were shot dead at a protest in Baghdad demanding that Iraqi military personnel receive their wages and pensions.
The US-led coalition forces occupying Iraq can’t even get the country’s power supply going regularly, nor can they establish health and education services. Iraq once boasted a first class socialized healthcare system. But after 12 years of crippling United Nations (UN) sanctions, dictatorship and two devastating wars, it has been wrecked.
The rebuilding of the country’s healthcare system will be handed over to US companies. Under a privatized system, run by US insurance companies, many poor people will be unable to pay for treatment and instead will probably be dependent on religious charity.
To compound Iraqis’ misery further, the UN says that the country’s agriculture is on the brink of collapse. Already 60% of Iraq’s 24.5 million people are dependent upon the UN oil-for-food program. Now, following the looting of foodstuffs and seeds from government warehouses and the collapse of water pumping stations, millions face malnutrition.
The enormous problems the US is facing in Iraq forced the Bush Administration to remove its original occupation administration team led by Jay Garner. Now the new American viceroy, Paul Bremer, wants to make restoring law and order his top priority. Without a hint of irony, referring to the 100,000 prisoners Saddam Hussein released from jail last year, he said, “It’s time those people were back in jail.”
As for claims that the US will establish democratic government, this has an increasingly hollow ring to most Iraqis. Plans to form a national assembly and a transitional government (originally supposed to happen by the end of May) have been postponed indefinitely.
The one thing the US seems ready and able to do rapidly and efficiently is to privatize the oil industry in the interests of the multinational corporations. Tim Carney, senior coalition adviser to the Iraqi ministry of industry and minerals, says that dozens of state-owned industries are likely to be ear-marked for privatization within the next year.
Before that, the occupying forces claimed they’d wait at least until they had an elected Iraqi government of some kind before privatizing industry. Even the very pro-capitalist Iraqi National Accord warns that: “The Iraqi people would turn against privatization if it was seen to be run for the benefit of foreign companies, especially if it was not being done by an elected government. Then the objectives of the coalition could be misunderstood.”
Religious Divisions Threaten to Fracture Iraq
US officials like defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld may outwardly appear complacent at the prospect of secular Iraq becoming an Islamic state. But alarm bells are ringing in many quarters.
BBC journalist Fergal Keane reported: “All I feel is a deep sense of foreboding about Iraq. Nobody has any idea of dealing with the looming possibility of an Islamic state. Have democratic elections and the religious parties will likely win. Have no democratic elections and you will have a guerrilla war sometime soon. The US troops I met wanted badly to go home; many of them were scared of the people in the country. Do they understand all, or any, of this in Washington?”
In the face of an Islamic national resistance to the US occupation, Washington could find it increasingly difficult to maintain its grip on Iraq and its oil fields. Its “interim government” of appointed Iraqi “representatives” including the Pentagon-backed Iraqi National Congress, Kurdish groups, the Iraqi National Accord and pro-imperialist Shias will inevitably clash with other Shia groups and the minority Sunnis.
In the absence of any mass socialist or working-class political alternative, it’s likely that in any subsequent elections religious parties will dominate, setting Iraq on course for religious and ethnic conflict and the possible fracturing of Iraq itself.
A Socialist Program
The Iraqi people should have the right to determine their own future. The disparate working class communities and the poor peasantry need to unite to resist the US occupation and fight to establish a workers’ government with a socialist program. Such a government would halt privatization and instead place the nationalized oil industry and the public sector under the democratic control of the Iraq working class.
This would allow the proper planning of the economy and the use of oil revenues to meet the economic and social needs of the population – namely, a functioning healthcare system, free education from elementary school up through college, clean water, jobs and a massive public works program to rebuild the country’s shattered infrastructure.
By removing the divisive and exploitative rule of imperialism and its local client elites, a socialist Iraq, as part of a socialist federation of Middle East states, could resolve the issues of self-determination of different national groups on a democratic and voluntary basis.