Saddam's capture does not spell end for Iraqi resistance
LAST MONTH'S capture of Saddam Hussein was seized upon by the US and British governments, desperate to boost their flagging reputations at home, as the "beginning of the end" of resistance to the occupation in Iraq. Events on the ground, however, indicate growing resentment of the military presence and frustration at the failure to restore basic services and infrastructure.
Michael O'Brien examines
Bush clearly fears the occupation in Iraq, with constant attacks on US troops, will turn into an outright liability come the Presidential Elections in November. By attaching so much importance to Saddam's arrest he is setting himself up for a bigger fall when the US military death toll continues to mount regardless.
Likewise, Blair hopes that the potential damage of the Hutton report due this month, which may throw more light on how he fabricated evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction, will be mitigated by Saddam Hussein's capture. However, as was the case with the killing of his two sons Uday and Qusay, Saddam's incarceration has quickly ceased to become the dominant news item.
The conditions Saddam was living in near Tikrit makes nonsense of the idea that he led the resistance experienced since last May when he was toppled and Bush declared, "Mission accomplished". Intelligence on the ground points to a diverse resistance encompassing anything from 15 to 30 groups, some admittedly with links to the old regime.
Socialists, who have consistently opposed his regime, will shed no tears for Saddam's plight. That said, his eventual fate is not an unimportant question. Clearly he must stand trial and answer for his crimes, but in whose court of law?
Any trial which doesn't fully uncover Saddam's tyranny from the time he assumed power and expose those like former US administrations who backed and armed him, would be a pure travesty. That rules out the US playing any role as judge and jury. Some within the anti war movement are placing their faith in a war crimes tribunal along the lines of what is taking place in the Hague.
However the US doesn't subscribe to that body because it doesn't believe any US citizen should ever have to answer for war crimes!
It is for the Iraqi peoples who suffered most under his regime to put Saddam on trial. Being able to do this presupposes them achieving a sovereignty that won't come about until the US and Britain are forced from the country.
From the time the war was declared over last May and a new phase of occupation began many Iraqis, while opposing the presence of US and British troops, reasonably expected that some degree of stability in their lives would be achieved, beginning with the restoration of basic services. Eight months later so little has been done that comparisons are being made with how despite economic sanctions Iraq was able to restore electricity to pre war levels within three months of the 1991 gulf war. Now with the able assistance of giant US Bechtal corporation, 20% of capacity has been achieved leaving most Iraqis 16 hours without electricity every day.
Despite having one of the largest reserves of oil in the world Iraqis are lining up in 3 kilometre queues for petrol because the refineries are still out of action. Indeed US multinational Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Dick Cheney's Halliburton Corporation are making a tidy sum from importing petrol from Turkey. In fact they are doing so well that, despite being also awarded the multi million-dollar contract for repairing the refineries, it suits them not to give Iraq its petrol producing capacity back just yet in case it undermines their importation scam.
An aspect of the difficulties faced by Iraqi industry is that many plants were built and equipped with Russian or French technology. However because of their refusal to openly back the war effort French and Russian companies have been barred from taking part in the reconstruction bonanza, leaving Iraqi industry lumbered with incompatible US equipment.
Besides unsuitable equipment Iraqi workers and technicians find themselves starved of resources and decision-making powers. One frustrated electricity official told the Asia Times newspaper:
"We have been doing this for the past 30 years without Kellogg Brown & Root. Give me the money and give me the proper authority and I'll do it. But the US won't because who knows what the Iraqis would do? Ask the Russians to repair their power plants?" Asia Times, 25 December 2003. This is a decisive answer to those who say that, while being opposed to the war, there is no point calling for a US and British withdrawal because the Iraqis need them to rebuild their society. A withdrawal with full reparations for the damage caused would be the first step to speeding up the redevelopment of the Iraqi economy.
US taxpayers in particular are being asked to spend billions on the occupation but very little of that finds its way to Iraqi workers. Salaried public sector employees have found themselves unemployed and without paycheques.
If the US has a medium term strategy of building up a new Iraqi ruling class and state apparatus in its own image so that it can eventually withdraw, they have their work cut out. Nearly half of the initial squad of 700 in the new Iraqi army have quit, unable to live on the $50 a month salary!
"Bring them home"
Not that US troops are living it up either. Stars and Stripes magazine, an official US army publication published a survey showing that most troops they survey in Iraq intend quitting the army once they get home. The nature of the daily sniper attacks and suicide bombings as well as the hostility of the local population has had a deep psychological effect on many soldiers, to the extent that there is a growing "Bring them home" campaign back in the US, which encompasses anti war activists and the relatives of US soldiers.
It has to be said that no ordeal they are going through compares to the daily atrocities and humiliations being perpetrated against ordinary Iraqis in the form of endless checkpoints and house-to-house searches. Journalist Robert Fisk, whose coverage of the occupation really stands out gives regular reports of human tragedies that otherwise go largely unrecorded. In an article in the London Independent newspaper on 4 January he reports an incident where eight young Iraqis in Basra were arrested and beaten by British troops, one so badly that he died in custody.
While the coalition makes a big play on the armed resistance, often attributing it to an amalgam of the old regime and political Islam there is another form of opposition they are clearly taking seriously. On 6 December the temporary headquarter of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions was raided by the US military with the arrest of eight of its leaders.
The old Ba'athist regime outlawed strikes in 1987 and prohibited anybody in the public sector, which included the vast oil industry joining the union because they were "civil servants". This law hasn't been repealed, indeed the US are intent on enforcing it. Iraq, which has an urban secular tradition, has seen its trade union movement stage the beginnings of a recovery from the days of the Saddam regime. Likewise the unemployed have organised and staged demonstrations in the face of the US "liberators" opposition.
It is clear that US imperialism seeks to create an Iraq fit for ongoing exploitation before handing over the administration to a handpicked interim government of 25 next June. Elections are tentatively planned for 2005 though timelines have proven very elastic. What is certain though is the US military's intention to maintain a base in the country with the agreement of the future elected government of course.
There is no indication that the Kurds' aspiration for self-determination will be satisfied by the arrangements in place. The prevailing view amongst the coalition for now is to hold the country together, not wanting to give an impetus to Kurd separatism in fellow NATO member Turkey. But one of the notorious "neo-cons" in the US has proposed an imposed partition of Iraq into three states.
Former chair of the United States Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb has called for the creation of three statelets for the Kurds in the north, Shias in the South and the Sunnis in the centre. He envisages these state been ethnically pure with minorities being forced out of their homes across newly constructed borders, reminiscent of outcome of the Yugoslav wars. In case you think this individual is a marginal crackpot he has been allowed to promote his views in the New York Times. Indeed the Bush regime has being characterized by being heavily influenced by such right wing extremists. Gelb spells out his rationale: the "general idea is to strengthen the Kurds and Shias and weaken the Sunnis".
Socialists support the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, with the rights of minorities safeguarded. This has nothing in common with imperialist imposed borders that serve to lay the basis for further strife.
The Bush administration lied about their pretexts for war and is still lying when they say they are helping rebuild the country. His regimes efforts will face a stiff challenge in 2004 as the international anti war movement particularly in the US redoubles its efforts to end the occupation. An even greater challenge for Bush and co. will be the mounting opposition in Iraq itself, particularly the reborn workers movements. Socialist Voice's sister newspaper in the US, Justice, sums up the situation well:
"The labour movement of Iraq has been organising not only in opposition to the occupation but also for improvements in the daily lives of Iraq's workers and poor. By fighting for an end to the US colonial occupation, for better wages, job security, working conditions, democratic rights and jobs for the 70% of Iraqi workers who are unemployed, the labour movement can cut across support for Islamic fundamentalist or other reactionary forces.
"A revived Iraqi labour movement could also cut across ethnic tensions, by fighting for common class interests of all oppressed people in Iraq and supporting the right of self determination for oppressed ethnic groups like the Kurds."
Such a struggle necessitates a socialist programme where full use could be made of the natural resources and technical capacity of the Iraqi workers to lift themselves out of the chaos.