The Iraqi State and the National Question

A Socialist Stand on the War

Marxists cannot in any way support the Saddam dictatorship. This does not mean to say, however, that we can in any way support the military intervention of the Western powers, which is to defend the interests of imperialism. The US clearly aims to smash Saddam, not merely retake Kuwait. But the Iraqi regime is a question for the Iraqi people. A military invasion to destroy the regime inevitably becomes a war against the Iraqi people. Victory for the US will be followed by maneuvers by Washington aimed at installing a ‘friendly’ regime, most likely a pro-Western dictatorship that will maintain ‘law and order’ in the aftermath of war. Military success and the establishment of permanent US garrisons in Kuwait and elsewhere would temporarily strengthen the hand of imperialism. The US will reap a whirlwind of upheaval as a result of the war, but the crushing of Iraq could for a time put imperialism in a stronger position to crush other anti-capitalist movements in the region. Military defeat for the US – though unlikely, given the existing balance of forces – would be a devastating blow to imperialism and give a great impetus to the colonial revolution. Who can doubt, for instance, that the position of the Palestinians would be stronger if the US were to suffer a defeat? The defeat of the US in Vietnam, as we have shown, opened the door to further revolutionary changes throughout the neo-colonial countries.

The Gulf war is a colonial war waged by imperialism to crush an exploited people and roll back the partial gains made by some neo-colonial states which, under pressure of mass movements, took some limited measures against imperialism and the multi-national corporations. Therefore, while not supporting Saddam’s dictatorship, Marxists cannot remain neutral. We support the people of Iraq against imperialism.

‘But what about Kuwait?’ it will be asked. Marxists would not have supported the invasion of Kuwait using Saddam’s methods. The move was carried out from above, using purely military means, and did not involve either a mobilization of the Iraqi masses or an appeal to the workers of Kuwait, particularly the heavily exploited immigrant workers from Palestine, Egypt, and the Asian subcontinent. Iraqi workers and peasants, who have no independent democratic trade unions or political parties, have been conscripted into the army under ruthless military discipline. Most of the immigrant workers were forced to flee from Kuwait, and the loss of their remittances will hit thousands of poor families in Egypt, Palestine, and other Arab countries.

Nevertheless, it has to be recognized that Saddam’s action has evoked mass support amongst the Arab peoples. The opulent and corrupt al-Sabah elite in Kuwait, like the similar rulers of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, are hated throughout the Arab world. Large sections of the Arab masses, moreover, probably the great majority, see the annexation of Kuwait as a step towards greater Arab unity. (We will return to the question of the Kuwaiti’s right to self-determination later.) Above all, Saddam’s move is welcomed as a blow to US imperialism, backer of the state in Israel and oppressor of the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, using the methods of military Bonapartism, Saddam cannot assure victory against the armed might of the US. A revolutionary mobilization could not only have swept away the al-Sabahs, but reactionary rulers throughout the region. As it is, the Iraqi people are likely to pay a heavy price for Saddam’s policies.

Any claim that the Ba’athist state is socialist is false. Leaving aside the question of democracy, which is an essential ingredient of socialism, the economy of Iraq, despite a big role for the state in the economy, is not based on social ownership of the means of production and planning. Saddam’s regime is a Bonapartist state which remains within the framework of capitalism. Under the pressure of the masses, Saddam, like Qasim before him, has taken measures against the Western oil companies and international big business, blows against imperialism which Marxists support. Unlike Bush – echoed by a chorus of Labour leaders – Marxists do not rely on moralistic slogans (Saddam is a ‘new Hitler’, an ‘evil dictator’, etc) but analyze the character of Iraq and its position in world relations.

The Character of the Iraqi State

Since its independence, the Iraqi state has fitted into a pattern of military-police dictatorships which have appeared throughout the underdeveloped countries in the post-war period, in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Far from being alien to the spirit of capitalism, they have usually been supported by the Western powers, as long as they opened their doors to the multinationals and toed Washington’s line. Pinochet in Chile, Mobutu in Zaire, Zia in Pakistan – the examples could be multiplied endlessly. The very existence of such regimes reflects the deep-rooted crisis in capitalism. The economic upswing in the West after 1950 was accompanied by continued crisis in the neo-colonial countries, whose cheap raw materials and sweated labor boosted the profits of big business in the advanced capitalist countries. The Western powers consistently supported the landlords, merchants, bureaucrats and military leaders opposed to fundamental change, or even to greater social equality. On the basis of the anarchy of the capitalist world market, the majority of neo-colonial countries have been incapable of feeding their populations, maintaining decent housing and health standards, or of raising the living standards of the masses. Under such conditions, with a gulf between the classes and permanent social crisis, governments based on parliamentary institutions have been rare and fleeting exceptions rather than the rule. Iraq is not exceptional. Now, challenged by Saddam’s military dictatorship, imperialism is paying part of the price for decades of exploitation and intervention in the Middle East.

Imperialism, previously led by Britain and France, now by the US, has frequently intervened in Iraq. Today Bush and Major pontificate about the defense of democracy and the liberation of Kuwait. But the empire-builders have never supported democracy or national self-determination in Iraq or neighboring states. They have always been ready to suppress movements of the oppressed and crush national aspirations. Their policy was always to prop up puppets who, while keeping their own people in chains, would kowtow to London, Paris or Washington.

Under the impact of the First World War (1914-18), the Ottoman (Turkish) empire, which embraced most of the Middle East, collapsed. Despite their support for US President Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’, which promised small nations the right to self-determination, Britain and France divided up the region. Ignoring the aspirations of the Arab peoples, who were demanding self-determination and beginning to demand steps towards a single Arab nation, the colonial governors arbitrarily drew lines on the map. Both Iraq and Kuwait were artificial creations of imperialism. In 1921, Britain undemocratically foisted King Faisal on Iraq. “What is wanted,” wrote a foreign office official, “is a king who will be content to reign but not govern” – in other words, an Arab puppet controlled by Britain. From then until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, Britain time and again stepped in to protect its stooges and crush protests from the masses.

In the face of mass strikes and demonstrations, Britain was forced to grant Iraq ‘independence’ in 1932. The limits were spelled out by one of the top British civil servants, Sir Arthur Herzl. He said there would now be “an administration with Arab institutions which we can safely leave while pulling the strings ourselves: something that won’t cost very much… but under which our economic and political interests will be secure.” British capitalism, naturally, wanted control of Iraq’s oil, vital to fuel the empire-builder’s warships. Opposition to the money-grabbing landlords, merchants and bureaucrats with whom British imperialism allied itself, inflamed by resentment of foreign domination, provoked many heroic movements of the Iraqi peasants, day-laborers, and urban workers. The British ruling class, notorious for its cold cruelty in the colonies, had no hesitation in using the most brutal, bloody force to crush strike movements and uprisings.

In 1958, the rotten monarchy was overthrown through a military coup which brought General Qasim to power. Qasim was himself a Bonapartist dictator. Nevertheless, his ‘revolution’ reflected the enormous pressure of the masses, their demand for land reform, economic progress, and improved living standards. Qasim leaned for support on the Iraqi Communist Party which, since its formation in 1934, had developed into a powerful political force. Unfortunately, its leaders followed every turn of Moscow’s line. Its policies reflected the narrow nationalist interests of the Soviet Union’s ruling bureaucracy, not the needs of the Iraqi working class. Instead of fighting for the Iraqi workers and peasants to establish their own government to carry through a socialist change of society, the leaders of the Iraqi Communist Party followed a policy of coalition with other nationalist, capitalist parties. At a crucial stage, they threw in their lot with General Qasim, subordinating the workers’ movement to a dangerous Bonapartist leader. This paved the way for a ferocious reaction against the Iraqi Communist Party when Qasim was overthrown.

Under pressure from the masses, Qasim took partial measures against the big landlords, against foreign domination of the Iraqi economy, particularly oil, and began to challenge the dominant role of imperialism in the region. The United States, by this time the main power in the region, supported a rightwing coup led by army officers allied to the Ba’athist Party. In other words, US imperialism helped into power the very regime which Saddam Hussein now heads. According to King Hussein of Jordan, the United States Central Intelligence Agency collaborated with the Ba’athists, handing them dossiers on Iraqi Communist Party members. Altogether, 5,000 Communist Party members were arrested, tortured and killed by the Ba’athists.

Although the Ba’athists were ousted in November 1963, they returned to power through yet another coup in 1968, led by extreme rightwing officers. The regime was headed by General Hassan al-Bakr, who was linked to the extreme right wing of the Ba’ath party. In 1979, Saddam Hussein replaced al-Bakr as President of Iraq and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. Right from the start, the Ba’athist regime was a repressive dictatorship, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. Saddam marked his own accession to the leadership with a purge of his rivals and anyone who potentially challenged his rule. In 1974, he launched a ruthless offensive against the Kurdish people. In 1976-7, the regime arrested dozens of Iraqi Communist Party members, many of whom were tortured and murdered. In 1977, the regime ruthlessly put down religious disturbances. The elections Saddam called to endorse his leadership were a thin camouflage for his personal dictatorship. All candidates were vetted, and any serious challengers, such as the Iraqi Communist Party, were barred. Saddam concentrated power more and more into the hands of a few relations and cohorts from his home regime of Tikrit.

The brutal, dictatorial character of Saddam’s regime is not a recent development. Its real character was well known in Washington and Whitehall. The Western powers turned a blind eye to Saddam’s atrocities when they regarded him as the ‘lesser evil’ compared to Iran after the revolution of 1979.

‘Socialism’, together with ‘unity’ and ‘freedom’, are the slogans of the Ba’ath Party. In reality, however, the Ba’ath Party is a party of the Iraqi elite. Socialist phrases are used to appeal to the discontented masses, but the policies of Ba’athism reflect the aspirations of the Iraqi capitalists and middle class, who see economic development and national independence as a prerequisite of their own wealth and prosperity. Ba’athism espouses ‘pan-Arabism’, appealing to the Arab peoples desire for a single nation stretching from Morocco to Iraq. In practice, the pan-Arabism of the Iraqi Ba’athist leadership has reflected an ambition to play a dominant role in the Arab world. After the revolution in Syria in 1966, for example, the Iraqi Ba’athists split from the Ba’athist party ruling in Damascus, though formally they were two wings of a single party.

The Iraqi Economy

The state, under Ba’athist control, has played the predominant role in the growth of the Iraqi economy, but on the lines of state intervention not socialism. Iraq followed the same path as Nasser in Egypt in the 1950s, taking the process even further. Oil production, which accelerated rapidly from the 1960s, gave the state an exceptional independence. The foreign-owned Iraqi Petroleum Company was nationalized in 1972. Then, the OPEC price rise of 1973 brought a doubling of GNP in a single year, and a further trebling in the next two years. The regime had already nationalized the banks and foreign trade in 1964.

Oil revenues allowed the state to build up heavy industrial plants on the basis of imported manufactures, and undertake construction, transport and other projects far beyond the means of local capitalists. Rather than displacing private capital, however, state projects provided lucrative contracts to the private sector, opening up a steady stream of massive profits. The family and cronies of the ruling circle, not surprisingly, have grabbed the lion’s share. Since 1987, moreover, there has been a policy of privatizing state firms, putting a bigger share of the economy into the hands of Iraqi capitalists. The expansion of bureaucratic jobs in the state machine has provided salaries for a big section of the middle class, giving the Ba’ath leadership a certain basis of support.

At the same time, oil revenues have enabled the regime to expand employment for workers, subsidize food and rent, and provide free education and welfare services. The growth of oil and state-sponsored industrial projects undoubtedly brought a general improvement in workers’ living standards. The reinforcement of the state’s security apparatus has in effect been complemented by measures to buy off the demands of Iraq’s rapidly growing working class.

Nationalization of foreign oil interests brought the Ba’ath regime, despite its rightwing nationalist outlook, into conflict with the West. As with Qasim, the Ba’athist leaders looked towards the Soviet Union for economic and military assistance, attempting to play off the superpowers and the Arab regimes against one another. The ruling bureaucracy in the USSR has consistently tried to maintain its links with Iraq as a point of strategic influence in the region, despite the many twists in Saddam’s foreign policy and the periodic repression of the Iraqi Communist Party. Under Gorbachev, however, the Kremlin has shown that it is no longer willing to give military backing to Iraq (or Syria, which has joined the US alliance against Iraq). The economic crisis in the USSR has undermined its previous attempt to play an international military role. The abandonment of the Iraqi connection, built up over many years, is one of the hard-line military bureaucrats’ grievances against Gorbachev.

The Course to War

Far from improving the position in Iraq, Saddam’s victory in the war against Iran multiplied the country’s economic problems and sharpened social tension. It is estimated that over 100,000 Iraqis were killed in the war, with four times that number suffering injuries. After eight years of austerity, the war-weary people undoubtedly hoped for a period of peace and prosperity. Instead, things got worse, and Saddam called on the workers to make even greater sacrifices.

The war imposed a massive burden on the economy, in spite of oil revenues. One study has calculated that the total cost of the war to Iraq was $452.6 billion, based on a combination of “damage to the infrastructure; estimated oil revenue losses; and the estimated GNP losses”. The regime largely financed the war through loans, which left an enormous legacy of debt. The World Review, 1990, estimates that Iraq in 1988 owed $40 billion to OECD and other non-Arab countries. This means interest payments of about $5 billion, an amount equal to the estimated annual cost of repairing war damage. Iraq also owes an estimated $40 billion to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states, which Saddam regards as ‘grants’ and obviously has no intention of repaying. There is little chance, moreover, that Iraq will repay the $10 billion lent by the USSR during the course of the war.

The Iraqi economy continued to grow quite rapidly during the war, but this was mainly on the basis of military-industrial projects undertaken by the state. The private contractors and middlemen who gained enormously from lucrative state contracts, scrambled for short-term profits. Their lack of confidence in the longer-term prospects of the Iraqi economy was shown by the fact that they stashed away their gains in foreign bank accounts. “The value of private capital held abroad by Iraqis has been estimated at a phenomenal $60 billion by some analysts…” (The World Review, 1990) As in other countries where market forces have been given a free reign, the poor became even poorer. While the government was forced to continue food subsidies ($750 million in 1989), expenditure on welfare, education and health was cut back. In 1990, inflation rose to 45 per cent.

The regime’s economic problems were aggravated by the decline in oil revenues, the mainspring of Iraq’s development. The value of Iraq’s oil exports declined from $26 billion in 1980 to only $14 billion in 1989. This reflected the decline in the world market price of oil, from a peak of around $40 per barrel in 1982 to between $8 and $18 a barrel in 1986-87. This fall was mainly the result of a world oil glut, reflecting the opening up of new oil reserves in Alaska and the North Sea, as well as a slightly more economical use of oil in the advanced capitalist countries.

The fall in the oil price also reflected, however, a change in policy by some of the main Arab oil producers. In order to undermine the oil revenues of their enemy, the Islamic leadership of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf producers, began to increase their output of oil. This lowered the price, but at the same time increased their share of the market, not to mention ingratiating them with the US capitalists who reaped the benefit of cheaper oil supplies.

Iraq, on the other hand, kept to its OPEC output export quota. Early in 1990, Iraq put pressure on the Gulf rulers to reduce their production and push the price of oil up from $18 to $25 a barrel. The Saudi Arabian monarchy and the Emir of Kuwait refused to accept this policy. Saddam then revived claims to parts of Northern Kuwait, covering the disputed Rumeila oilfield. He also demanded access to the islands of Bubiyan and Warba, to provide Iraq with deep water tanker anchorage outside the Shatt al-Arab waterway. As the dispute gathered pace, Iraq denounced Kuwait for allegedly demanding repayment of some Iraqi war debts. In addition, Saddam demanded that Kuwait should pay $2.4 billion for oil taken from the Rumeila oilfield and $14 billion compensation from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates for oil over-production. As we know, the Emir’s rejection of Saddam’s demands was taken as a cause for war.

Oil was the immediate cause of war. But Saddam was also desperate to go to war to escape from the sharpening social tensions within Iraq. The war against Iran increased the weight of the military, potentially posing a danger to Saddam’s personal rule. Top military posts were shuffled around, and successful military commanders moved into less prestigious positions. Power was concentrated even more heavily into a ruling clique composed almost entirely of members of Saddam’s own extended family and long-standing cronies.

Demobilization would have posed serious political problems. A sharp rise in unemployment, even before the end of the war, could have meant serious unrest if the army had been demobilized. Moreover, Saddam had little intention of running down the military machine built up during the war. Over $5.4 billion a year was allocated to rearmament, compared with $2.5 billion to civilian reconstruction. Only the threat of war can appear to justify such expenditure. Moreover, in a new era of peace, a war-weary people expects a return to prosperity, a prospect that Saddam could by no means guarantee. Like many Bonapartists before him, Saddam attempted to seek a way out through war.

Kuwait: A Colonial Protectorate

The word ‘liberation’ falls uneasily from the lips of Bush and Major. Imperialism has never supported genuine movements for national liberation. The ‘liberation’ of Kuwait would mean the restoration of the al-Sabah dictatorship. Even in the case of Kuwait, however, the imperialists in the past demonstrated a cynical contempt for the independence of their client statelet.

In the 1950s British imperialism was shaken by the nationalization of the Suez Canal and other moves by Nasser against foreign interests in Egypt. Nasserism even had an echo in Kuwait, and Britain, with US approval, considered the option of turning the protectorate into a Crown Colony under military occupation. This is revealed in official documents recently reported in The Independent (13 September 1990). The US, wrote the British Foreign Secretary, are “assuming we will take firm action to maintain our position in Kuwait… They assume that we will also hold Bahrain and Qatar, come what may. They agree that at all costs these oilfields must be kept in Western hands.” In the event, Britain decided it was ‘better tactics’ to keep control through the al-Sabahs rather than ‘exercise physical control’. Occupation, the Foreign Secretary warned, could mean a general strike of oil workers and a Nasserite uprising. However, “if this alternative is accepted, we must also accept the need, if things go wrong, ruthlessly to intervene, whoever has caused the trouble.” The ruthless intervention of Saddam, partly to check the fall in the price of oil encouraged by the al-Sabah’s over-production, is an entirely different matter. The hypocrisy of Bush and company is evident. But what position should be taken by the international labor movement? Does Kuwait rightly belong with Iraq? Or should we call for Iraq to withdraw?

First, what light does history throw on the issue? Kuwait is primarily a port city. Until the discovery of oil, its surrounding territory was of no significance. The origin of the city is usually put in the early 18th century when the Utab section of the Anaiza tribe from the Arabian interior took over an obscure fishing village on the Gulf. The al-Sabah dynasty dates from 1756 when a sheikh emerged as the settlers’ leader. The port prospered on the basis of fishing, trade, and pearl fishing.

In the 16th century Kuwait came under the domination of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, though its control was very loose. From 1776, however, when the port of Basra temporarily came under Persian control, the British East India Company began to use Kuwait as a staging post. The Company was the main vehicle of British imperialism’s exploitation of the Indian subcontinent, and had the British navy at its disposal.

The East India Company protected the al-Sabahs from marauding tribes from the interior and pirates in the Gulf. Britain accepted Ottoman suzerainty in return for recognition of their commercial and strategic interest in Kuwait, which became even more important as the British empire expanded ‘East of Suez’. When imperialist rivalries intensified, there was a tussle between Britain and Turkey for control of Kuwait.

The legalistic basis for Iraq’s claim to Kuwait rests mainly on the point that Kuwait was part of the Ottoman province (vilyat) of Basra. The al-Sabahs, it is claimed, accepted the Ottoman suzerainty, and the al-Sabah sheikh was formally the province’s sub-governor. After the First World War, modern Iraq was formed from the provinces of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. As the legal successor of the Ottoman empire, it is argued, Iraq has a right to Kuwait.

The al-Sabah’s short answer is that Kuwait became an independent state in 1961, joined the United Nations in 1963, and was recognized by Iraq. Their answer to the historical claim is that, in reality, Kuwait had been an independent territory since the 18th century. In 1899 Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah signed a secret treaty with Britain, which feared that German imperialism had plans to extend the Berlin-Baghdad railway to Kuwait, thus threatening Britain’s commercial dominance in the East. The al-Sabahs agreed not to cede or lease any territory or enter into any agreement with any (other) foreign government.

In 1909, Britain negotiated a treaty with Turkey. This formally recognized Turkish suzerainty, that is, Turkish dominion over Kuwait as far as its international status was concerned. In return, however, Turkey accepted virtually total internal autonomy for the al-Sabahs, who of course were under contract to British imperialism. The treaty was not ratified because of the outbreak of the First World War, in which Turkey sided with German imperialism. In 1914 Britain designated Kuwait as “an independent government under British protection,” that is, a British colony in all but name. The oil discovered in the 1930s gave Kuwait even greater importance for British imperialism.

In 1961 Britain agreed to terminate the 1899 agreement, and Kuwait became politically independent. Qasim proclaimed, with justification, that Britain had created “an oil-well state”, and demanded Iraqi control of Kuwait. British and Arab League forces were sent to defend the statelet against any attempt at annexation. In 1964, however, the Ba’athist regime which ousted Qasim recognized Kuwait as an independent state, although Iraq did not recognize the boundaries claimed by the al-Sabahs, leaving open the possibility of further territorial claims. The al-Sabahs made the first of many grants to Iraq, protection money that they have paid to successive regimes.

The Question of Self-Determination

This is the historical background to Saddam’s claim to Kuwait. Historical precedents and legalistic arguments, however, will never resolve the issue. National self-determination is primarily a question for the peoples concerned. The majority within any disputed territory should have a democratic right, on the basis of their own consciousness of national identity, to decide their own future, whether through autonomy, independence or some form of fusion with another state.

In the case of Kuwait, its borders, international status, and political structure were decided by imperialist powers. Iraq, too, was an artificial creation of British imperialism. The colonial map ignored popular aspirations. The monarchies and sheikhdoms were installed to block a revolutionary movement for social change and Arab unity.

In Iraq there is overwhelming support for the annexation of Kuwait. Apart from the deep desire for Arab unity, this mood is fuelled by hatred for the al-Sabahs. They are rightly seen as stooges of imperialism who have amassed obscene wealth through their personal control of oil, while throughout the region millions live in poverty or are forced into migrant labor. Britain created a statelet specially designed to bolster the position of the al-Sabahs as loyal custodians of imperialism’s interests. The feeble element of democracy in the constitution was strangled as soon as there was any dissent. Millions of foreign workers, a transient proletariat on temporary contracts and without rights, were imported, enabling the ruling family to preserve a feudal structure. The Palestinians and many other Arab workers in Kuwait undoubtedly welcomed the overthrow of the al-Sabahs.

Nevertheless, many workers in Britain, while condemning the lack of democracy in Kuwait, reject its forcible annexation. Whatever the past disputes, Kuwait existed as a separate state and it is therefore justified, many will argue, to defend it with force of arms. While there was a growing Kuwaiti opposition to the al-Sabah dictatorship, none of the Kuwaiti democrats appear to have welcomed Saddam’s takeover. If anything, the invasion has strengthened Kuwaiti national consciousness. Do not the Kuwaitis have the right to self-determination too?

Recognition that Iraqis and Kuwaitis, Egyptians and Syrians, etc, are part of a single Arab people is a fundamental starting point. The al-Sabah’s massive financial support to the PLO leaders and Arab regimes in conflict with the US and Israel partly reflected their need to be seen to be taking a strong pan-Arab line. However, alongside the common national consciousness of the Arab peoples there has developed a local Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, etc, consciousness within the different Arab states. This is why (together with the need to recognize the rights of Israelis, Kurds, and other minorities) we call for a socialist confederation rather than a unitary Arab state.

The disputed questions of whether there is a Kuwaiti consciousness, and what the position of Kuwait should be, can only be resolved by the people of the area without the intervention of US or other foreign armies. Ideally, this should be settled by a referendum of the people of Kuwait, not just of native Kuwaitis but all those living and working there. This is obviously ruled out under conditions of military occupation and war.

Does this mean that the labor movement internationally should call for the withdrawal of Iraqi forces so the wishes of the people can be freely determined? The majority of the Arab peoples, for reasons already explained, undoubtedly support Saddam’s occupation. The majority of workers in the advanced capitalist countries, however, are opposed to the occupation, and will support Saddam’s withdrawal. Given the present situation, there are only two ways in which Iraq can be forced out of Kuwait. One way is for Saddam to be forced out by the armed force of US imperialism. That would mean the restoration of the al-Sabah regime. It would also mean a permanent US garrison in Kuwait, from which the US would try to tighten its grip on the region. Some of the strategists of imperialism are already discussing the installation of a pliable, pro-imperialist dictatorship in Baghdad and possibly the break-up of Iraq – with a section, for instance, going to Turkey in the form of a Kurdistan under Turkish control.

The other way is through socialist revolution. A democratic, socialist Iraq would give the right to self-determination to all the peoples of the area, Kuwaitis, Kurds, Turks and other minorities. Then the people of Kuwait, through a democratic federation, could freely decide their own fate. This might be as an autonomous part of a socialist Iraq, or alternatively as an independent socialist state linked to a Socialist Federation of the region.

But where are the forces to bring this about? Surely, it is utopian? But the ‘practical’ solution of imperialism is to pulverize the people of Iraq with missiles and bombs. The ‘liberation’ of Kuwait will bring almost total destruction – and the return of the Emir. The end of dictatorship in Iraq will mean a new dictatorship bearing the US seal of approval.

The forces for socialist revolution exist in the Middle East. They can be seen in the Palestinian Intifada, and in the general strikes and mass demonstrations against austerity measures and repression which have swept the Maghreb states and Egypt in recent months. The war in the Gulf, moreover, will provoke new upheavals in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and throughout the region in which the struggle of the working class will come to the fore. In Iraq itself, the best workers will draw the conclusion that only a bold, socialist alternative can provide a way forward.