What is the Way Forward?
As the cycle of violence between Shi’as and Sunnis worsens, isn’t it necessary for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq to stop the civil war?
No. The U.S. occupation of Iraq is making the civil war worse, not better. It is the U.S. government’s divide-and-rule policies – balancing between the different ethnic and religious groups in Iraq and playing one off against the other – that has helped to unleash the cycle of religious violence.
After the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, which had based itself on the Sunnis, the U.S. propped up a government based on the Shi’as and built up a Shi’a and Kurdish Iraqi military to use against the primarily Sunni insurgency.
One senior U.S. government official had to admit that the U.S.-backed Shi’a-dominated government was fueling the civil war, particularly by the Interior Ministry’s use of death squads and secret prisons against Sunnis.
This has alienated Sunnis from the new government and driven them into the hands of Sunni fundamentalists who are carrying out terrorist attacks against Shi’as.
Before the U.S. occupation, Iraq had a long tradition of secularism and ethnic and religious tolerance. But since the U.S. propped up the Shi’as and Kurds against the Sunnis, Islamic fundamentalism has been on the rise, and a vicious train of sectarian violence has been set in motion.
Two U.S. wars, 12 years of U.S.-led economic sanctions, and now the U.S. occupation have all led to the collapse and disintegration of Iraqi society, which has created a fertile breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The occupation has led to massive shortages of jobs, food, gasoline, and electricity (usually only 3 hours per day), not to mention the humiliation of living under the occupation of foreign invaders.
Attempts to militarily crush the Islamic fundamentalists will not eradicate Islamic fundamentalism. On the contrary, it plays into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists by strengthening the perception that they are the main fighters against Western domination of the Middle East, and it deepens the underlying Iraqi anger at the occupation.
The longer the imperialist occupation continues, the more the crisis will deepen. Every day more Iraqis and Americans are being killed, and billions of dollars are being wasted.
Continuing the occupation only prolongs this agony. The U.S. spent more than a decade trying to crush the Vietnamese resistance at the cost of 57,000 U.S. soldiers’ lives andmillions of Vietnamese. Had the U.S. left sooner, far less damage would have been done.
If the U.S. should not pull out of Iraq now, then when? After 200,000 Iraqis have been killed? After 4,000 U.S. troops are killed and 40,000 injured? After we spend another $400 billion and cut more desperately-needed social services in the U.S.? After how much of Iraq’s publicly-owned industries are privatized and sold off to multinational corporations?
Many claim the US. And other foreign troops need to stay to help create a democratic political system and rebuild Iraq. But what evidence is there to suggest that U.S. imperialism is capable or willing to economically or socially develop a poor country? The U.S. has dominated the Middle East for 60 years, and the entire region still suffers from poverty, tyranny, and social disintegration. Nor has the U.S. helped develop any of the countries of Latin America, its so-called backyard.
This is not accidental; it is the inevitable by-product of U.S. imperialism, which is forced by the global capitalist system to ruthlessly compete economically and militarily for profits, resources, and power.
So is U.S. imperialism deliberately pushing Iraq toward civil war as a divide-and-rule tactic?
There is no doubt the occupation itself, and the divide-and-rule policies of the U.S. and Britain, are the main causes of Iraq’s slide towards civil war.
Iraq, like many of the other countries of the Middle East, was created by British imperialism, which artificially cobbled together various ethnic and religious groups into the Iraqi state, which suited Britain’s interests in 1921.
But while imperialism fanned the flames, they have now created a Frankenstein monster which they can no longer control.
U.S. imperialism’s dreams of a compliant regime in Iraq which would allow the U.S. to withdraw its troops as soon as possible are in tatters. The U.S. is horrified at the prospect of Iraq descending into civil war and breaking up into its component parts because of the catastrophic consequences for the whole region, but the increasing ethnic and religious divisions are now spiraling out of their control.
The sooner the U.S. leaves, the better. Iraqis are much better off working out their own problems without the interference of imperialism.
But if U.S. troops are withdrawn, is there any force in society that can avoid a descent into chaos or the rise of a Taliban-style dictatorship?
Socialists believe that the only basis upon which to unite the majority of people in Iraq is by building a multi-ethnic, working-class movement based on the common class interests of the majority of the impoverished population.
A working-class movement could gain mass support by rallying Iraqis to drive out the foreign occupiers, but also by organizing for economic improvements in the daily lives of the poor masses.
A movement of workers and poor farmers could gain mass support by fighting against the privatization of Iraq’s economy and bringing the valuable oil industry into public ownership to finance an emergency socialist reconstruction program to provide jobs, food, healthcare, housing, and electricity for all.
Fighting to establish a democratically-planned economy that would meet the basic needs of all is the only way to avoid a divisive struggle between ethnic groups over the oil wealth and other scarce resources.
A workers’ movement would also need to struggle for full rights for women and oppressed ethnic groups, including the right of self-determination, while at the same time guaranteeing the rights of minorities in any region where one ethnic group dominates.
For the Iraqi people to be able to freely decide their future, they need to liberate themselves from foreign occupation, but also from the forces of the Iraqi state and the sectarian militias.
Concretely, this would require establishing a non-sectarian, multi-ethnic defense force that is controlled by democratically-elected committees of workers, students, and the unemployed. The formation of these sorts of bodies would be part of building a movement of working-class Iraqis, forming democratic, independent labor unions, and other mass organizations.
Without a powerful initiative from below by the working class and the poor, Iraq faces the prospect of a vicious cycle of bloody national conflicts and ethnic cleansing, along the lines of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Are the working-class and socialist movements strong enough to unite Iraqis?
In recent years, despite attempts to stir up ethnic and sectarian conflict, there have been many mass displays that have cut across ethnic divisions in society, such as the Shi’a and Sunni uprisings against the occupation, as well as the Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurdish uprisings against Hussein’s regime.
Historically, there have been united national movements of Iraqis, including the struggle that led to the forcing out of British imperialism. Most importantly were the development of mass struggles of the working class and poor, leading to the growth of a mass Communist Party in Iraq in the 1950s.
However, the Hussein dictatorship, with the backing of U.S. imperialism, crushed the mass workers’ organizations. This was made easier by the mistaken policies of the leadership of the Communist Party. When the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed (which were falsely equated with genuine socialism by capitalism worldwide), the leaders of the left and the workers’ movements in the Middle East became politically disoriented.
This meant that, when Hussein was toppled, the idea of recreating a mass united movement of the working class and the poor was not present. The ideological vacuum has been mainly filled by right-wing political Islamic groupings that are based on fostering religious divisions in society or appealing to one side of the sectarian divide or the other.
There are workers’ organizations in Iraq today, such as trade unions, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Iraqi Workers Communist Party, and groups of women and the unemployed. The workers’ and socialist movements are currently weak, but they still remain the only possible force that can take Iraqi society forward.
Ramy Khalil, Justice #48, May-June 2006