Two wars, 12 years of economic sanctions, and the U.S. occupation have left Iraq’s economy in shambles and reduced much of its infrastructure to rubble. What was once the most industrialized country in the Middle East has been reduced to the same level as a poverty-stricken, sub-Saharan African country. The U.S. bears primary responsibility for unleashing this nightmare of death and destruction on the Iraqi people.
Many in the anti-war movement are now debating a number of important questions: Should the anti-war movement call for an immediate end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq? Or does the U.S. have an obligation to stay and clean up the mess it made? If the U.S. were to leave, wouldn’t Iraq be ravaged by chaos, possible civil war between Iraq’s different ethnic groups, or the coming to power of a right-wing Islamic government? Would it be best for anti-war activists to support a gradually phased-out withdrawal of U.S. troops under the oversight of the United Nations (UN)?
This position was outlined by liberal NY Times editorialist Nicholas Kristof: “My fear is that we will now compound our mistake of invading Iraq by refusing to pay for our occupation and then pulling out prematurely…In that case, Iraq would last about 10 minutes before disintegrating into a coup d’etat or a civil war.” (10/15/03)
Can the U.S. Create a Democratic Iraq?
However, the U.S. did not invade Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people or to counter terrorism, as many in the Bush administration claim. They did it to grab Iraq’s profitable oil, to extend U.S. domination over the region, and to boost the power and prestige of U.S. big business.
Just as Bush Administration officials blatantly lied about the reasons for the war, they are lying about helping Iraq rebuild itself and form a truly democratic government. The current occupation reflects the U.S.’s real motive – installing a pliant puppet regime that will allow U.S. corporations to exploit the oil and markets of Iraq.
The Bush Administration often argues that the Iraqi people aren’t ready for democracy, in order to justify a “benevolent” foreign power occupying Iraq to “ensure” that a democratic government is put into place.
However, this is a racist argument that has been used to justify brutal colonial occupations for hundreds of years. The implication is that Iraqis require an “enlightened” foreign power to introduce “civilization” and “democracy” into their country because they are not capable of creating their own democratic government.
In reality, the people of Iraq and the Middle East have led numerous mass struggles for democracy and self-determination. Since World War Two, the U.S. has been the main opponent of these struggles, backing many of the repressive and dictatorial regimes in the region.
The Iraqi people have the democratic right to form their own government, independent of the U.S. or any other foreign power.
Is the UN an Alternative?
Some in the anti-war movement, correctly distrustful of the U.S., call for the UN to oversee the rebuilding of Iraq and the forming of a new government. They see the UN as a peaceful and humanitarian alternative to the brutal, militaristic U.S. occupation.
However, UN intervention would mean a similar occupation by foreign troops. While the U.S. may give up some control over Iraq, this would not hand more control to the Iraqi people. Rather, the other permanent members of the Security Council, who control the UN along with the U.S., would use a UN occupation to further their own economic and strategic interests, simply dispersing the plunders of war to a wider circle of vultures.
The UN’s track record in Iraq should be enough to prove they can’t be trusted to defend democracy in Iraq.
Recently, the UN Security Council rubber-stamped the U.S.-led occupation with the passage of Resolution 1511. This resolution, passed by a unanimous Security Council vote, in no way alters U.S. political or military domination of Iraq. Rather, it added a fig leaf of legitimacy to the U.S.-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority and the hand-picked, puppet Iraqi Governing Council.
The UN also gave its approval to the 1991 Gulf War, which killed 100-200,000 Iraqis, and administered the murderous economic sanctions, which killed over one million Iraqis.
Any Occupation Untenable
The recent explosion of attacks on U.S. and other foreign troops demonstrate the rising level of hostility to the occupation. As Justice goes to press, November has been the bloodiest month in Iraq, with over 60 foreign soldiers killed at the hands of Iraqi resistance.
Military checkpoints, house-to-house sweeps, brutal repression of mass demonstrations, and foreign control of the Iraqi economy and government are only fueling the anger of ordinary Iraqis.
As long as foreign troops remain, this anger will only grow. Rather than weakening support for right-wing political Islamic or other reactionary groups, the occupation will only strengthen their popular support in Iraq for their opposition to the occupation. It is US imperialism’s domination over Iraq and the Middle East that has caused the burning anger that is the basis of support for political Islam among the people in the region.
Rebuilding the Iraqi Labor Movement
It is the movement against the occupation, particularly the re-emergent Iraqi labor movement, which holds the best promise for uniting the nation against both dictatorship and the threat of civil war. In reality, the Iraqi working class, organized in solidarity with the international labor movement, is the only social force positioned to offer a way out of the crisis.
The labor movement of Iraq has been organizing not only in opposition to the occupation but also for improvements in the daily lives of Iraq’s workers and poor. By fighting for an end to the U.S. colonial occupation, for better wages, job security, working conditions, democratic rights, and jobs for the 70% of Iraqi workers who are unemployed, the labor movement can cut across support for Islamic fundamentalist or other reactionary forces.
A revived Iraqi labor movement could also cut across ethnic tensions, by fighting for the common class interests of all oppressed people in Iraq and supporting the right of self-determination for oppressed ethnic groups like the Kurds.
By fighting on a socialist program, for public ownership of the oil and other major industries under democratic workers’ control and management, the workers of Iraq can create a truly democratic, prosperous Iraq, free of imperialist domination.
However, these aspirations of the Iraqi people – for a better, more secure life and for control over the resources of their country – run counter to the motives of any occupying power. Foreign troops will be used to hold back the Iraqi workers fighting to improve their lives. Their main purpose would be to see that corporations with investments in Iraq can continue to exploit the resources and workers of the country.
The Role of the US Anti-War Movement
Socialists call for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. However, we don’t believe that the U.S. government and war-profiteering corporations should be let off the hook for all the death and destruction they’ve caused. We call for the U.S. government to foot the entire Iraq reconstruction bill.
This reconstruction must be democratically controlled by the workers and people of Iraq. The U.S. government should pay full reparations, with no strings attached, to a genuinely democratically-elected Iraqi government, not a U.S. puppet regime.
But workers and poor people here in the U.S. are being made to pay for the occupation, through our taxes, cuts in education and social programs, and with our friends, relatives, and co-workers being killed or wounded in Iraq. Instead, the cost of rebuilding Iraq should be entirely paid for by the oil companies and other war-profiteering corporations, such as Haliburton, that are responsible for the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars.
In solidarity with the workers and people of Iraq, the U.S. anti-war and labor movements need to assist in rebuilding the Iraqi labor and socialist movements. This is the only way to ensure that a genuinely independent government is established that truly represents the interests of the Iraqi people.
Recently, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the United Electrical Workers have passed resolutions for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Iraq. In October, U.S. Labor Against the War sent a delegation to Iraq to observe and assist the rebuilding of the Iraqi labor movement.
Socialists welcome these steps to rebuild the labor movement of Iraq. The AFL-CIO and other Western labor federations and organizations should also assist in this process by providing resources, funds, and organizers.
Building a mass anti-occupation movement in the U.S., with international support for a socialist workers’ movement in Iraq, could help channel Iraqis’ seething anger into fighting for: independence from U.S. imperialism, democratic control over their own resources, and a socialist society to provide jobs and a decent life for all Iraqis.