Two wars, 12 years of economic sanctions, and the U.S. occupation have left Iraqis society in a deep social crisis and it’s economy in shambles. 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. ruling class bears the main 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 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 demand the U.S. hands over the administration of Iraq to the United Nations (UN)?
Liberal NY Times editorialist Nicholas Kristof summed up this viewpoint when he wrote, “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’état or a civil war” (15 October 2003).
Can the U.S. Create a Democratic Iraq?
In order to approach these questions, we need to be clear about the real purpose and character of the U.S. occupation. Despite the propaganda of the Bush administration, the U.S. did not invade Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people or to counter terrorism. They did it to grab Iraq’s profitable oil, to extend U.S. domination over the region, and boost the power and prestige of U.S. capitalism.
Just as Bush Administration officials blatantly lied about the reasons for the war, they are lying about helping Iraq rebuild itself and form a 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, and act as a junior partner for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. Any effort by Iraqi workers to fight for better living conditions or democratic rights will be vigorously opposed by the U.S.
If the U.S. is so concerned about democracy in Iraq, why have they systematically suppressed it since occupying the country? The U.S. is refusing to allow elections (instead appointing a stooge government), suppressing anti-U.S. parties, censoring the media, banning protests, shooting protestors, carrying out mass arrests with no due process, and denying workers the right to organize unions. The U.S. has also denied the Kurds (and others) their basic right to self-determination.
The U.S. Administration often argues that the Iraqi people aren’t ready for democracy, in order to justify an “enlightened” foreign power to “ensure” that a democratic government is put into place. This is a racist argument that has been used to justify colonialism for centuries.
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.
In Iraq the CIA helped bring the Baath party dictatorship to power in a coup, and later supported Saddam Hussein and his repression of workers, communists, Kurds, Shia Muslims, etc. The U.S. allowed Saddam to crush a genuine Iraqi uprising in 1991.
In the rest of the region, the U.S.’s history has been no better. The U.S. armed and backed, for example, the Shah in Iran, the Saudi monarchy (where women can’t vote), and the current military dictatorship in Pakistan.
The Iraqi people have the democratic right to determine their own future and form their own government, independent of the U.S. or any other foreign power. Any talk of democracy in Iraq as long as it remains under a colonial occupation, is a complete fraud.
If the anti-war movement puts conditions on ending the occupation and refuses to call for an immediate withdrawal of all occupying powers from Iraq, it is accepting that the future of Iraq should be decided by foreign powers, denying the fundamental democratic right of self-determination to the Iraqi people.
Further, why should the anti-war movement advocate for the U.S. to have more time to implement it’s imperialist goals? For the U.S. ruling class, a “successful” end of the occupation means they have crushed the Iraqi resistance and are able to impose their plans on Iraq.
This would only embolden the hawks to launch a new war against a North Korea, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, etc. On the other hand, if the U.S. were forced to withdraw from Iraq, it would represent a historic defeat for U.S. imperialism, making it much harder for the U.S. to openly intervene around the world for a period.
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, a sober examination of the UN’s history and structure reveals that it actually provides a cloak of legitimacy for the U.S. and the other major imperialist countries. A transfer of power from the U.S. to the UN would only mean that Iraq would be controlled by an alliance of the big powers, not the Iraqi people. UN intervention would still mean a similar occupation by foreign troops.
In fact, at the root of the massive problems in Iraq and around the Middle East is the legacy of colonial rule and imperialist domination. It is completely utopian to look to the U.S. and the former colonial powers (which make up the Security Council) for a solution to the problems they have created and benefit from.
Moreover, a UN intervention will only take place if it suits U.S. interests. How could it be otherwise? Any attempt to establish a UN administration that was not in the interests of Washington is simply not possible since the U.S. has a veto power over all UN decisions as a permanent member of the Security Council.
The UN’s track record in Iraq should be enough to prove they can’t be trusted to defend democracy in Iraq. UN General Secretary Kofi Annan supports the U.S. in its refusal to allow the direct election of an Iraqi government.
This follows the UN Security Council giving its approval and recognition of the U.S.-led occupation. 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 handpicked, puppet Iraqi Governing Council.
The UN also sanctioned the 1991 Gulf War, which killed 100-200,000 Iraqis. After the war, the UN carried out the U.S.’s murderous economic sanctions which killed over one million Iraqis, half of which were children. Is it any wonder then that the UN is widely despised in Iraq?
Any Occupation Untenable
There is a rising tide of opposition among ordinary Iraqis to the occupation, with growing protests and daily attacks on U.S. and other occupying forces. This is rooted in the reality of what the occupation has meant: military checkpoints, house-to-house sweeps, brutal repression of demonstrations, and the indignity of foreign control of the Iraqi economy and government.
Some leaders of the anti-war movement argue, however, that an immediate end to the occupation could open the way for civil war and/or a right-wing Islamist government taking power.
But prolonging the imperialist occupation only exacerbates these problems. The U.S. presence in Iraq, far from making Iraq (or the world) safer, is a festering wound that is breeding anger and resistance throughout Iraq and the Middle East. Brutal U.S. repression of Islamists will only play into their hands and will deepen the underlying problem of Iraqis’ growing anger at the occupation.
In fact, it is U.S. imperialism’s domination over Iraq and the Middle East that creates the conditions that allow right-wing political Islam and terrorist groups to gain ground if they are seen as the main opponents of the occupation.
The longer the U.S. (or future UN) occupation continues, the more the crisis in Iraq will deepen. The occupation itself is an explosive purveyor of chaos, violence, and resistance. Every day the occupation continues means more Iraqi’s and Americans dead, hundreds of millions of dollars wasted, and growing demands from Iraqi’s and Americans to end the occupation.
Continuing the occupation only prolongs this untenable 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 and millions of Vietnamese. Had the U.S. left sooner, far less horror would have been inflected.
Those leaders of the anti-war movement who oppose an immediate withdrawal need to explain: at what point should the occupation end? When 20,000 Iraqi’s have been killed? When 1,000 U.S. troops are killed or 20,000 are injured? When we spend another $160 billion? After how many U.S. atrocities? After how much of Iraq’s economy is privatized and looted?
How can we oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but not vigorously oppose the result of that invasion, the occupation? How can we oppose the effects of the occupation, but oppose ending the occupation itself?
The anti-war movement needs to stand firmly in solidarity with the Iraqi people’s right to determine their own future, the U.S. troops demanding they be brought home, and oppose Bush’s attempts to make American workers pay for the occupation. Our slogan should be: “Not one more death, not one more dollar, not one more day!”
Whatever the dangers in Iraq of civil war and right-wing political Islam, the continuation of a colonial occupation intent on exploiting Iraq’s resources will only make it worse. Where has U.S. imperialism been able to foster a democratic economic and social development of a poor country? South Vietnam? Kosovo? Haiti? Panama? Nor is this accidental; it is the inevitable by-product of the material interests and methods of U.S. imperialism.
Only the Working People of Iraq Can Provide a Way Forward
The outrageous occupation is fueling a burning anger among Iraqis. The situation demands action and answers, and millions are looking for solutions. Unless a left-wing, workers alternative is built to harness this anger, reactionary Islamists and ethnic leaders will fill the vacuum in Iraq.
Only the building a powerful movement of the working and dispossessed people of Iraq, organized in solidarity with the international labor and anti-war movements, is the only social force positioned to offer a way out of the crisis. The U.S, UN, Arab powers, and the Iraqi elite are only capable of deepening the misery of the Iraqi people.
A powerful workers’ movement would organize not only in opposition to the occupation but also for improvements in the daily lives of Iraq’s workers and poor (better wages and jobs for the 70% of Iraqi workers who are unemployed), and democratic elections and rights (trade union rights, free speech, free press, right to protest, etc).
A workers’ movement could overcome ethnic tensions by fighting for the common class interests of all oppressed people in Iraq and supporting the full rights for women and oppressed ethnic groups, including the right of self-determination.
An Iraqi government of workers and poor farmers would bring the oil into public ownership under democratic workers control in order to finance an emergency socialist reconstruction program which is democratically planed to benefit society – providing jobs for all, food, healthcare, housing and education.
For decades the Iraqi working class was misled by the Stalinist Communist Party, crushed by Saddam’s dictatorship, and was thrown further back by the breakdown of society created by the two U.S. wars and economic sanctions. For these reasons, the workers’ and socialist movements are currently weak, but it still remains the only possible force that can take Iraqi society forward.
Since the fall of Saddam there have been some encouraging signs of the beginnings of a re-birth of the Iraqi labor movement. It is crucial task of the anti-war and labor movements here in the U.S. and internationally to provide the necessary resources and solidarity to build on this.
Socialists call for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. However, the U.S. government and war-profiteering corporations should not be let off the hook for all the death and destruction they’ve caused. The U.S. government should pay the entire Iraq reconstruction bill.
Workers and poor people here in the U.S. should not be made to pay for the occupation, through our taxes, cuts in education and social programs, and with our friends, relatives, and co-workers who are 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 Halliburton, that are responsible for the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars.
As the occupation continues to unravel, and the anti-war radicalization deepens here at home, millions of soldiers, military families, young people and workers will demand: Bring the troops home now – end the occupation of Iraq!
Greg Beiter and Philip Locker, Justice #38, March-April 2004