The results of last December’s elections in Iraq reflect an entrenchment of sectarian division along ethnic and religious lines, contrary to the upbeat comments of the Bush regime.
Of the 275 seats up for grabs, a bit less than half (128) went to the United Iraq Alliance (UIA), a coalition of Shia Islamists headed by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim). The alliance of the main Kurdish parties won 53 seats, followed by the Iraqi Consensus Front (Sunni Arab Islamists) with 44. The predominantly secular Shia grouping headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi picked up 25, followed by Sunni nationalists, Kurdish Islamists, and others. The UIA and the Kurdistan Alliance fell three seats short of the two-thirds majority required to form a government that would exclude the Sunnis.
Nevertheless, the overall result reinforces the position Shia forces gained at the last “elections” (1/30/05), held under even tighter martial law, when the vast majority of Sunnis boycotted the vote. It means that the UIA can effectively pick who it goes into coalition with.
The title of an article in the Economist magazine, “The wrong lot won, dammit” (1/7/06), sums up the despondency of many capitalist commentators. Far from representing a step towards stability, the opposite is the case.
The invasion and occupation have set in motion a process that could see the breakup of Iraq into its main constituent parts: a Shia-dominated south, Kurdish north, and Sunni center and west. In all likelihood, this would lead to severe repression against minority groups. In fact, ethnic cleansing is already taking place as Kurds and Shias move to control their respective oil-rich areas.
This could only be cut across by the development of a united, non-sectarian insurgency fighting for national liberation. Such a movement would be strongest if based on the working class, with a socialist program linking the expulsion of imperialist forces with the need for working-class control and management of the economy.
That would include the demand for the nationalization of oil to enable the natural wealth of Iraq to fund jobs, housing, healthcare, and education for all, and the right for all ethnic, religious, and secular peoples to coexist peacefully and organize collectively. It would require worker and community self-defense to be organized democratically and on a non-sectarian basis. And it would attempt to link up with workers internationally, starting with neighboring states.
Unfortunately, at present the momentum is in the opposite direction. It is true that some sections of the working class have taken important steps to organize collectively – for example, oil workers in the south. And other workers, such as those in administration, have the potential to play a progressive role. It is also true that all the insurgent groups share the desire to kick out the occupying forces. But there is no significant force putting forward a unifying alternative in Iraq itself, let alone a socialist one.
There are some who argue that in such circumstances, U.S. troops should not be withdrawn as it would only lead to a worse calamity. Socialist Alternative has been for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. and other forces from the start, pointing out that it is the occupation itself that is fuelling sectarian division and pushing the country towards disintegration.
Few Iraqis miss Saddam’s regime, but the day-to-day life of ordinary people is worse and now the way is being paved for a new brutal regime, albeit one run by Shias and not Sunnis. The anti-Sunni death squads run out of the Ministry of the Interior by SCIRI are only the start. All of this is happening under the occupation. Nothing good can come out of continuing it even one more day.
From Bad to Worse
Indeed, SCIRI and the UIA have been emboldened by the election to push through their sectarian Shia position. Al-Hakim has stated that the constitution, endorsed by a referendum last October, must stand without any substantial amendments. This allows a large measure of autonomy to the Shia in the south. The UIA has enough seats in parliament to block any constitutional changes it opposes.
This exacerbates Sunni fears that they will be trapped in resource-poor, landlocked areas of the country (Sunnis make up a fifth of the population, but were the dominant group under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein).
It is clear that life in Iraq for the vast majority of people is horrific. Basic infrastructure has collapsed, violence and repression rule. Oil and electricity production remain below pre-war levels, and it must be remembered that pre-war Iraq was languishing under extremely harsh sanctions imposed by western imperialism.
The British Guardian newspaper commented on a recent U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) report. It described the chaos: “It is increasingly common for tribal people to ‘turn in’ to the authorities enemies as insurgents – this as a form of tribal revenge.” Also: “In the social breakdown that has accompanied the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime, criminal elements within Iraqi society have had almost free rein… Baghdad is reportedly divided into zones controlled by organized criminal groups-clans.”
The increasingly stark sectarian divisions were also shown in the votes cast by the Iraqi military and police, which were published in the International Herald Tribune (12/27/05). These showed that 45% of votes went to the main slate of Kurdish candidates, meaning that Kurds are massively over-represented in the armed forces as they make up around a fifth of the population. A further 30% of votes went to the UIA. Only 7% went to the three leading Sunni parties.
U.S. Facing Defeat
The occupation is sinking deeper into the mire. The New York Times has pointed to attempts to divide the insurgency, in particular against Al Qaeda in Iraq, headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It would appear that support for Al Qaeda is limited, above all, because of its extreme brutality and the fact that it has killed many Iraqi people. The problem for the U.S., however, is that all the insurgent groups demand a timetable for troop withdrawal, something which Bush has repeatedly refused.
This tactic is leading U.S. forces to contact groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq and Muhammad’s Army, “which are believed to comprise mainly Iraqi nationalists and former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.”
The report said that in December the U.S. released Satam Quaood, described as a “former associate” of Saddam, as a “goodwill gesture” to insurgent groups (1/7/06). This means that the U.S. is attempting to deal with elements of the same vicious regime it kicked out of power in the first place. After all, whereas Saddam was the head butcher of the Iraqi working class, he was surrounded by henchmen more than willing to carry out his bidding.
All this spells disaster for U.S. imperialism. Contrary to its assertions, there has been no letup in the violence. In fact, a new report shows that despite temporary lulls overall insurgent attacks have steadily increased over the entire course of the occupation.
Bush is desperate for some troop withdrawal before facing tricky mid-term elections later this year. However, troop numbers are still above the levels they were before the Iraq elections, which now represent the baseline of 138,000.
Just at a time when the U.S. is increasing pressure on the Iranian regime, Iran’s allies in Iraq – SCIRI and other Shia forces – have been strengthened. Meanwhile, marginalized Sunnis increasingly feel they have nothing to lose but to fight occupation. And, although Sunnis are a minority in Iraq, they are an overwhelming majority in the Middle East as a whole.
Does anyone still say this is not a quagmire?
The Cost of War
$100,000 per Minute
2006 is shaping up to be the most expensive year yet in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. will spend $120 billion, bringing the total expenditure since 2001 to over $400 billion. The cost of occupying Iraq alone is now running at $4.5 billion per month, or a whopping $100,000 per minute.
Even more staggering is the new report by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. He estimates that the eventual total cost of the occupation of Iraq to the U.S. (i.e., not including the cost to the Iraqi people!) will be somewhere between $1 and $2 trillion dollars. This estimate includes not only the direct costs of the conflict and “reconstruction”, but the cost of providing lifetime healthcare to the tens of thousands of wounded veterans and the associated economic effects of the war. By the way, he also assumes that the U.S. will pull out relatively quickly.