CWI statement on the capture of Saddam
Saddam’s capture will not end Iraq turmoil
“The killing or capturing of Saddam Hussein will have an impact on the violence, but will not end it,” General Sanchez, US military commander in Iraq, New York Times, 7 December 2003.
Saddam’s capture is obviously a psychological boost for US and British imperialism and something they have attempted to exploit to the maximum. A mighty propaganda wave swept over the world, trumpeting this “success”,
and trying to present it as a fundamental change in Iraq. At the same time,
however, serious commentators have been more cautious; warning that Iraqi
opposition to occupation will not simply disappear.
The hypocrisy emanating from Washington and London is
striking. To this day, US imperialism protects former dictators, like Pinochet
in Chile and Suharto in Indonesia, who, when they were in power, were important
friends of Washington. If Saddam had not invaded Kuwait in 1990, and had
remained in power, he would likely still be an ally of Washington.
However, notwithstanding all the talk of a “turning point”
or a “new start” in Iraq, Saddam’s arrest will not resolve the crises facing
Iraqi society. The severe problems gripping the country will not disappear and
Saddam’s incarceration could well further boost demands that the occupying
powers quit Iraq. Now it will not be so easy to accuse those opposing Iraq’s
occupation of wishing to bring Saddam back to power.
The immediate boost in Bush’s own popularity is quite
unstable and its continuation will depend both on the US economic situation and
future developments in Iraq. Blair on the other hand has not really benefited.
The failure to find any ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ in Iraq has damaged Blair
far more than Bush. In the New Year, Blair faces serious problems with the Hutton
enquiry findings and also over government attempts to massively increase
charges for studying at university.
The circumstances in which Saddam was found, living in
primitive conditions, showed that he was not directing the continuous daily
attacks on both the occupying forces and the reconstituted Iraqi police. Many
commentators have correctly said that his capture will not end the attacks. This
shows that, to a certain extent, Saddam already represented the past before his
Unlike the leaders of the US, Britain, France and other
countries the CWI never supported Saddam and his dictatorial regime. By the
time Saddam came to power in a US supported coup in 1979 he already had been
instrumental in the murder of many members of the Iraqi Communist Party and
trade unionists. Saddam’s first period in office witnessed a bloody purge of
the Iraqi left. The CWI has always
supported any efforts by Iraqi workers and poor to overthrow Saddam’s brutal
dictatorship and to establish their own rule, which is the complete opposite to
Bush’s attempts to create a client state.
At different times many regimes and leaders, both inside and
outside Iraq, created opportunistic alliances with Saddam. This was not only
the case when former US President Ronald Reagan supported Saddam during the
Iran-Iraq war; as recently as 1996 the leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party,
currently one of Bush and Blair’s allies, appealed to Saddam to send 40,000
troops to help fight against their rivals in the Kurdish Patriotic Union (PUK).
Socialists unreservedly condemned the Saddam regime’s
vicious repression of the left, Shi’ites, Kurds and others, at the time it was
happening. But we do not join in Bush and Blair’s celebrations today over
Saddam’s capture. They are cheering another success for their imperialist aims,
not for democratic rights or justice. Bush’s support for democratic rights is
only skin-deep. Only a few weeks ago he was congratulating the new President of
Azerbaijan, an ally in the “war on terror”, on his election as “his security
forces were arresting the opposition, and after independent observers had
criticised the election” (Financial Times, 27 November 2003).
Like Bin Laden, Saddam, in many ways developed under the
sponsorship of the West. While Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda originated as a creation of
the West, Saddam in the 1970s moved more and more to a pro-West position. It is
not accidental that today pro-Bush and Blair propagandists, like the prominent
British historian Michael Burleigh, only mention Saddam’s brutalities from 1991
onwards, after the invasion of Kuwait, and do not mention Saddam’s tyranny
during the 1980s. But then, of course, in the 1980s Saddam was the West’s ally,
waging war on Iran. He played friendly host to guests like Donald Rumsfeld,
today’s US Defence Secretary, who in 1983 met Saddam as President Reagan’s
Amongst Iraqis there will be mixed reactions to Saddam’s
capture. Some, especially Kurds and Shi’ites, will undoubtedly shed no tears.
Others, seeing him as a symbolic fighter that opposed the West, will be bitter
at this further success for the occupying powers; a feeling coupled with dismay
that Saddam seemingly just surrendered without a fight, unlike his two sons and
a 15 year old grandson.
But even amongst those welcoming Saddam’s capture there will
be a growing call for the occupation forces to withdraw. After all, Bush’s
proclaimed aim was to “decapitate” the old regime. Now, with Saddam in custody,
this aim has been achieved. But Bush and co. had other aims, of course; to
install a pro-US imperialist regime in Iraq. That is why for US imperialism it
is not a question of now letting the Iraqi people democratically decide their
own future. Currently, the occupiers have scheduled elections for the end of
2005, after an unelected assembly draws up a constitution.
As it becomes clear to Iraqis that Bush and his gang are
determined to shape Iraq as a client state, the resistance will deepen and
start to develop a mass character. The US commander in Iraq, General Sanchez, has
already admitted that the seizure of Saddam would not end the attacks on the
occupiers and their allies.
These attacks are not simply carried out by Saddam loyalists.
The German daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung, reported that Allied secret services
have identified 15 different armed groups with diverse ideological, regional or
religious origins but all sharing “anti-American” sentiments (16 December 2003).
Their strength is hard to judge, but in November the CIA estimated that there
were 50,000 insurgents operating against the occupying forces.
The former Conservative British Foreign Secretary, Malcolm
Rifkind, has written: “Most of these insurgents are
Iraqis resentful of the American occupation of their country. Others are Arabs
or Islamic extremists from other countries who have moved into Iraq, seeing it
as an opportunity to wage jihad against the west. These elements will have no
incentive to end their violence.” (Guardian, London, 15 December
2003). One irony of this situation is that before the war Bush falsely
claimed that Iraq was one of al-Qaeda’s bases. That was not true, but since the
war al-Qaeda has begun operating in Iraq and now, after Saddam’s capture,
Islamic groupings like al-Qaeda will claim that they are the most resolute
fighters against occupation.
The US is now on the horns of a dilemma. It was much easier
to invade Iraq than it will be to withdraw. With the next US Presidential
election looming in less than 11 months Bush wants out of Iraq as soon as
possible, but cannot risk leaving chaos behind. That could destabilise the
entire region, which is a major source of the world’s oil resources.
This is the background to the US’s recent change of policy
and its attempt to accelerate a handover of power to what they would see as
“safe hands”. But the dilemma Bush faces is who to hand power over to? The
different political, ethnic and religious factions can barely agree. Even
Bush’s own administration is divided. The Pentagon sponsors the banker
Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress; the State Department supports the Iraqi
Independent Democrats of the pre-1968 Iraqi Foreign Minister Pachachi; while the CIA backs the Iraqi National Accord
led by Alawi, a businessman.
The US government’s attempts to install a puppet regime are
overshadowed by widespread Iraqi opposition to foreign occupation, particularly
against the US, the closest ally of the Israeli government. Rifkind commented
that: “Now that threat [of Saddam] has finally disappeared, Iraqis will be less
persuaded than ever that they need American tutelage in order to educate them
how to govern themselves … However delighted they might be to be relieved of
Saddam's tyranny, they feel humiliated by foreign occupation, and they should
not be expected to be any less anti-American than the rest of the Arab world.
If the Americans ignore these sensitivities then the insurgents, with Saddam
out of the way, will seem even more like freedom fighters to ordinary Iraqis.”
The US military’s brutal methods in Iraq, including the
re-introduction of aerial bombing of civilian areas as their answer to terror
attacks, have only served to deepen opposition. Likewise, the economic and
social crisis gripping the country - a situation made worse by the occupiers’ neo-liberal
policies - has created despair and anger against what is correctly seen as the
occupiers opening up Iraq to naked exploitation by the predominately US owned
The strengthening Iraqi opposition to foreign occupation is
the background to 300 of the 700 members of the newly created First Battalion of the new Iraqi Army either
deserting or being discharged after protesting at their pay and conditions.
Even if the US succeeds in rebuilding the Iraqi Army it could never be certain
of the loyalty or reliability of the soldiers.
The most recent opinion poll in Iraq illustrates the depth
of the Iraqi peoples’ anger. 57% did not trust the US and British occupation
forces “at all” and a further 22% did not trust them “very much”. 43% did not
trust the US appointed Provisional Authority “at all” and 30% “not very much”. The
United Nations was, after years of running sanctions in Iraq that led to many
deaths, also not “at all” trusted by 37% and “not very much” by 28% (Guardian,
London, 13 December 2003). It was the religious leaders who had the greatest
trust and this is why the US is trying to find ways to involve them, and religious
groups, in a puppet regime. But, given the deep divisions and rivalries between
these forces, this US policy is fraught with problems.
In many countries, including both the US and Britain, there
are calls from capitalist politicians and strategists for Bush to change course
and let the United Nations attempt to defuse the Iraqi situation by taking over
more control of the occupation. These proposals are partly linked to the
continuing tensions and differences between the main imperialist powers over
whether the war was the best course of action. It also reflects imperialist
rivalries in the Middle East. But, in a situation of rising Iraqi opposition to
US occupation, there could be an attempt to bring the UN in, possibly to work alongside
some kind of nominal Iraqi administration.
Opinion polls in Iraq show large-scale doubts about the UN,
understandable given its record in enforcing the sanctions that so badly hurt the
Iraqi people. Any hopes that do exist in the UN are misplaced. The only big change
UN control would bring would be that instead of the occupation being dominated
by one power, the US, decisions would be made collectively by the leading
imperialist powers running the UN Security Council, along with Germany and
Japan. Socialists argue that the real alternative to US occupation is the
withdrawal of all foreign armies and the right of the Iraqi people to decide
their own future.
Throughout the Middle East there are mixed reactions to
Saddam’s capture. The New York Times correctly commented: “While the Arab public harbours no particular love for the
deposed dictator or other oppressive governments in the region that were
similar to his, it despairs that an outside power can humiliate the Arab world
by capturing such a significant figure with relative impunity, underscoring the
masses’ powerlessness” (15 December 2003). As Saddam was seen by many Palestinians
as one of the few Arab leaders who “stood up” to imperialism during the 1990s,
some will feel disheartened that he was captured without a fight.
Within the US there is much talk about Saddam’s arrest
forming the basis upon which Bush can win re-election next year. However, the
elections are still eleven months away and continued US casualties could well
undermine Bush’s support, let alone any dramatic weakening in the fragile US
economy. Indeed, Saddam’s capture will fuel the growing demands for the withdrawal
of the troops. Charley Richardson, a co-founder of ‘Military Families Speak
Out’ and whose son is a marine who served in Iraq, said that Saddam’s seizure, “Removes
the last excuse that the Bush administration has being using to continue the occupation.
It will bring to a head the question of why we are in Iraq”.
Within Iraq there will be demands by many for a quick open
trial of Saddam. But it is not at all certain whether this will happen and, if
a trial takes place it could well be a rushed affair to try to limit its scope.
Significantly, when discussing possible charges that Saddam might face, many
Western commentators brush over the eight year war - and alleged war crimes -
that the former dictator launched, with Western support, against Iran in 1980. They
instead concentrate on his oppression within Iraq and the invasion of Kuwait. As
a former British Air Marshal, Sir Timothy Garden, coyly explained, “Certain
elements of the US/Iraq relationship during the 1980s might be embarrassing if
revealed in open court.” (London Evening Standard, 15 December 2003).
A real settlement of accounts with Saddam can only be
carried out by a trial run by representatives of the Iraqi workers and poor
that investigates all aspects of Saddam’s regime, including which powers,
inside and outside Iraq, supported him during his 24 years of rule. Although, of
course, it is doubtful whether someone like Donald Rumsfeld would honestly
testify over what he discussed with Saddam in 1983!
This settling of accounts with Saddam’s
regime can only be successfully completed if it is part of the struggle to end the occupation, and imperialist control, of Iraq. To
achieve this goal the key task is the building of an independent workers’
movement that has support amongst the urban and rural poor.
Internationally support has to be given to those activists
seeking to build workers’ organisations, and especially those who oppose the
occupation and fight for democratic rights for all, including for women and for
all nationalities and religions.
Within such organisations socialists would campaign for a
programme based upon the following main points:
withdrawal of all foreign occupying forces. Removal of the US appointed
formation of democratic popular bodies at all levels to take over the
running of Iraqi society. Convening of a national assembly of
democratically elected delegates to appoint a government representing the
Iraqi workers and poor peasants.
controlled multi-ethnic militias to provide security for working people.
of democratic rights and protection for women, different nationalities,
and all ethnic and religious groupings. Right of self-determination for
all the peoples in Iraq.
rights for trade unions and workers’ organisations.
of all privatisations and neo-liberal measures imposed by the occupation
powers. Cancellation of Iraq’s foreign debt. Implementation of workers’
control and management in all nationalised industries, to stamp out
corruption and looting and to ensure that the economy is run in the
interests of the Iraqi people. Preparation of an economic plan to utilise
Iraq’s economic resources to rebuild the country in the interests of the
a democratic socialist Iraq, and a socialist federation of the Middle