Iraq - the chaos of Imperialist Occupation

By Stephen Boyd.

Socialist View, No. 11, Summer 2003.

The aftermath of US and British imperialism's war in Iraq is chaos. Bush and Blair's war of "liberation" has created a massive cornucopia of problems. The people of Iraq, having suffered decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein, three major wars, and 12 years of genocidal UN sanctions have been plunged into a new nightmare.

In Iraq, a country with the world's second largest oil reserves, petrol queues stretch for up to two miles. There is only two hours of electricity a day in Baghdad. Over 250 Iraqis have been shot dead in the capital (as of 15 May). The streets are covered in household rubbish because there is no refuse collection, and filled with the stench of open sewers. The World Health Organisation has reported an outbreak of cholera in Basra, a city of 1.3 million who don't have clean water. Children are being kept home from school because of reports of kidnappings and rape. Armed gangs roam the streets and the countryside. Children are being killed on a daily basis in Iraq as they collect dumped ammunition to raise money to feed their families. "They are doing it to earn hard cash....The shell casings of many bullets, anti-aircraft rounds are made of brass....The metal is worth good money. They do this in 40 degree heat, at which gunpowder can detonate...the British Army won't even handle certain ammunition during the hottest hours of the day" Guardian 19 May 2003.

The UN has reported that the country's agriculture is on the brink of collapse. Now with the looting of foodstuffs and seeds from government warehouses and the collapse of water pumping stations, millions face malnutrition and with the arrival of the Americans - prostitution is back!

After the sacking of Baghdad's ancient treasures, US Marines have now vandalised the ancient city of Ur which has been described as one of the greatest wonders of civilisation. At 6,000 years old, Ur is probably the world's most ancient structure; the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, the place where the wheel was invented, the first mathematical system developed and the first poetry written, has been spray painted with slogans by the Marines. Kiln-baked bricks have been stolen from its pyramid and the US is building an airfield and military base at the site.

Iraqi society and its infrastructure (what's left of it after the war) is literally falling to pieces and Iraq's new colonial rulers backed up by a US occupying army of 150,000 troops seem powerless and incapable of doing anything about it.

Moreover, the multinationals are lining up to get their snouts in the trough to make a killing from the huge reconstruction contracts. The Bechtel Group that have been appointed lead contractor received 20,000 applications from companies hoping to win a sub contract and gain from the $40 billion reconstruction cake. These multinational companies along with the oil conglomerates will participate in the real looting of Iraq when they steal its oil and other wealth.

War of resistance

"Two Americans shot dead and another nine wounded by unidentified gunmen in Fallujah, two US military policemen badly wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade at a north Baghdad police station, a grenade thrown at American soldiers near Abu Ghurayb. That was yesterday's little toll of violence - not counting the Muslim woman who approached American troops with a hand grenade in each hand, was shot before she could throw the first and then, as she tried to hurl her second grenade from the ground, was finally killed by the Americans. Isn't it time we called this a resistance war in Iraq?", Robert Fisk, in Baghdad, 28 May 2003.

The new American colonial administration has barricaded itself in Saddam Hussein's old palaces. They travel wearing flak jackets in armoured vehicles escorted by heavily armed troops. As the above quote from Robert Fisk outlines, US forces are under daily attack throughout Iraq. Fisk compares it to the Lebanon in 1982. Yet he explains that it took nearly a year before the first shots were fired at the Americans in Beirut. In Iraq the attacks commenced a few days after the war ended, the walls of Baghdad are already painted with the slogan "Death to America".

Weapons of mass destruction

Where are the weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? Bush and Blair justified this war on the basis of the need to disarm Saddam Hussein whom they claimed possessed major supplies of WMD that posed a threat to the West and Iraq's neighbours. Yet so far absolutely nothing has been found. Donald Rumsfeld, the chief architect of Gulf War II, has basically admitted that no weapons will ever be found.

On 28 May 2003, The BBC's Washington correspondent Justin Webb said, "Mr Rumsfeld's remarks are the closest the Bush administration has yet come to an admission that it may never find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." This is in sharp contrast to the statements of Tony Blair to the British Parliament on 29 April, when he stated, "I am absolutely convinced and confident about the case on weapons of mass you and others, who believe somehow that this was all a myth invented by us, ....I think you will be eating some of your words." The 75th Exploitation Task Force, a US group looking for WMDs, is leaving Iraq and told the Washington Post that they no longer expect to find WMDs and that the targets identified by the Pentagon were inaccurate!

The war against Iraq was supposed to make the world a safer place. It would be another blow that would weaken the terrorist forces that "threaten" the US and the West. That's what Bush claimed anyway. Yet in one week in mid May, nearly 80 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, most probably by forces linked to Al Qaida as claimed in the Western media, a force against which Bush claims that America had struck a devastating blow in the "war on terror" in Iraq. These attacks, and more which will follow, are a direct consequence of the US war against Iraq. Another failed US and British war aim.

Colonial occupation

Donald Rumsfeld's war plans were supposed to decapitate the Iraqi regime within a matter of days, then the advancing "coalition" forces would be greeted by cheering friendly crowds. Yet, whereas his plan succeeded in winning the war in a relatively short time, it was at a major price. Instead of decapitating the Ba'ath Party regime of Saddam Hussein, the US war machine in the process of overcoming resistance to its invasion, atomised it, along with the Iraqi army and most of the country's civil administration network. The US had originally planned to use the Iraqi army to assist them in maintaining "order" in Iraq in the post-war situation. The resulting chaos has not only thrown up an economic, and logistical nightmare for the US occupying forces, but has unleashed powerful political forces.

The majority of people in Iraq view the US as a colonial occupying force. A war of resistance has already begun. Mass demonstrations involving tens of thousands have been taking place demanding a US withdrawal. The uprising of the Shia contains within it some elements of revolution with the mobilisation of whole sections of the masses into a direct confrontation with US imperialism. Immediately after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in the towns of Kut, Kerbala, Najaf and Nasiriyah, Islamic clerics and other sections of the Shia community established their own forms of local government. These committees, and others created by the Sunni muslims, some of which are secular, are working in parallel and in direct opposition to the US imposed administration. The mullahs have consciously stepped into the political vacuum created by the war.

The ability of the Islamic clerics to, at least for the time being, gain mass support amongst whole sections of the Iraqi people, is in part due to the role of the mosques as an arena which fosters political opposition and organisation amongst the Shia who are the most impoverished section of Iraqi society. Numerous other political parties have also emerged, including the Iraqi Communist Party. The eruption of support for Islamic forces including Islamic fundamentalist parties or more correctly parties that espouse "political Islam" has shocked US and British imperialism.

On demonstrations of both Shia and Sunni muslims, anti-US occupation slogans have been chanted. In Kerbala, which witnessed a pilgrimage of three million Shia muslims, slogans such as "No to US occupation, No to Saddam, Yes for Islam" as well as "Shias and Sunnis unite for Islam" and demands for the "ayatollahs' rule" have predominated. Islamic forces from Iran have moved into Iraq in an attempt to win support amongst the majority Shia population (60-65% of Iraqis are Shia muslims). Already the US are horrified that they may have spent $100 billion to overthrow Saddam Hussein only to have him replaced by an Islamic state which is hostile to US imperialism.

A number of well respected journalists have commented that if there were open and free elections in Iraq, that an Islamic government would be elected. Donald Rumsfeld has unashamedly stated that the US would not allow this to happen - so much for their stated intent of creating democracy in Iraq. But it also exposes the narrow outlook of the current right wing fundamentalist junta which controls the US government. They didn't seem to foresee the prospect that this war would result in a fundamentalist Islamic state being established in Iraq and as a consequence the possible coming to power of Islamic states in other countries of the Middle East opposed to the US.

Political Islam

The al-Sadr movement has huge influence in the Shia community, in fact Saddam City, a Shia suburb of Baghdad has been renamed Sadr City. Sheikh Fartosi is a leading figure in the al-Sadr movement named after Imam Mohammed al-Sadr, a senior Shia cleric who was executed by Saddam in 1999. He has attacked the US for its handling of the situation post war. He stated "They haven't done anything. At the hospitals, it is our doctors running things....The Americans should do what they promised and give back authority to the Iraqi people". Yet at the same time, he is a follower of strict Islamic sharia law and has issued a number of fatwas, including banning alcohol, ordering women to wear veils and cinemas to close. A committee from the mosque is to be sent to the house of any person who refuses to obey; "It should be a hand of iron to handle this matter. We will send these people to the Islamic courts". Sheikh Fartosi claims to have an armed force of 1,000 former soldiers. He has also stated that christians should follow his commands.

Other fundamentalist clerics have spoken of the need to impose sharia law, "98 % of the people are muslims. The Iraqi constitution must not commit to anything that will go against anything in sharia" said one. And another, "The West calls for freedom and then liberty. Islam is not calling for this. Islam rejects such liberty. True liberty is obedience to God and to be liberated from desires". This type of reactionary despotism will be completely hostile to the idea of the Iraqi working class independently organising against the US occupation, for democratic rights, even trade union rights, never mind moving in the direction of socialism.

Apart from the al-Sadr faction, there is also another Shia organisation which stems from the Hawza in Najaf, the leading Shia seminary. A third group of Ayatollah Mohammed Bakri al-Hakim, who heads the Iranian backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), is well organised and has an army, the 15,000 strong Badr Brigade. All of these organisations would envisage a Shia dominated Iraq based on reactionary sharia law, built on the model of the current Iranian state. However there is suspicion and reservations amongst the Shia population towards the Islamic groups most associated with Iran, as Iraq has been the most secular state in the Arab world.

The fact that these Islamic forces have been so quickly able to gain huge support is a reflection of the lack of an alternative for the mass of the working class and poor peasants, as well as a consequence of the policies of imperialism in this region.

The development of support for reactionary "political Islam" mainly amongst the Shia population but also sections of the minority Sunnis not only raises the prospects of a direct confrontation with US imperialism, but also of civil war. Under the rule of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party, the minority Sunnis held most of the positions of power in Iraq including the civil service, the police and the armed forces. Moves towards establishing a Shia dominated Islamic state could result in a development occurring in Iraq along the lines of what happened in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the minority Tamil population enjoyed a similar "privileged" position as the Sunnis. After independence from Britain, the Tamils became an oppressed minority under the majority Sinhalese. The result has been a prolonged and bloody civil war with the Tamil Tigers fighting for self determination and independence.

The Kurds

In the north of Iraq, there is the added and equally complex question confronting Bush and Co. of the Kurds. The main Kurdish political forces of the PUK and the KDP united against Saddam and in support of the US invasion for the purpose of achieving and independent Kurdish state. Previously these two political factions had been involved in a civil war. At the beginning of the war, the US in order to prevent a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq in effect gave the Turkish government an assurance that they would not allow an independent Kurdish state to emerge. Such a state, built around the huge oil reserves in the areas of Kirkuk and Mosul would re-ignite and give a new impetus to the aspirations of the 20 million Kurds in Turkey for independence and for the establishment of a greater state of Kurdistan.

Already a conflict has emerged between the Kurds and the Arabs as hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees forcibly evicted from their homes and villages by Saddam under his Arabisation programme return, and force out the Arabs. The potential exists for a new civil war in this area between the Kurds and the Arabs, as well as a conflict between the various Kurdish factions over control of the region. Even a new war with Turkey is not completely ruled out as it attempts to prevent the development of an independent Kurdish state.

A broken country

Iraq's economy has totally collapsed. Inflation is rising due to the shortage of basic necessities, and profiteering. 60% of the population are dependent on food aid. Iraq has massive debts. Kuwait is claiming $200 billion in reparations from the first Gulf War, $127 billion is owed to Western banks and arms manufacturers and Russia is owed $57 billion. The cost of rebuilding Iraq is estimated by some to be $250 billion. The money to pay for these massive "debts" and reconstruction can only come from the country's oil wealth. However, the Financial Times has estimated that it will cost $10 billion to repair the oil industry. The West is unwilling and also economically incapable of providing these resources due to its own economic crisis. Just like in the former Soviet Union, the multinationals will be extremely reluctant to invest in Iraq due to the political unrest and uncertainty over its future direction. Even selling the current stocks of Iraqi oil is problematic because without a government no one can legitimately claim ownership and credibly sell it on the international market. US imperialism's colonial administration is intent on enforcing a programme of neo-liberal privatisation, not just on Iraq's oil industry, but also its health service and all other sectors of the economy. The result will be mass unemployment, and a further economic burden on the Iraqi masses.

Another reflection of the short-sightedness of the Bush government has been its belief that it could just parachute in a number of Iraqi exiles and establish a coherent and stable stooge regime through which to govern. Already the negotiations of the various factions the US hopes can make up an interim Iraqi government have been met with protests and opposition from Iraqis who are being excluded.

The US hopes to establish its stooge government in July made up of the likes of the criminal Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Jalal Talibani, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and representatives of the Iraqi National Accord and SCIRI. Important forces from the Shia and Sunni populations, who are currently leading the protests against the US occupation are being excluded. This interim administration may be in power for up to five years before elections are allowed.

Despite their current anxiety about the prospects of an anti-US Islamic regime coming to power in Iraq, the Bush administration will attempt to find forces within the Islamic movement that they can work with and possibly even accept as a new government.

The current daily attacks on the US armed forces, as well as the suicide bomb attacks are indicative that a more extensive guerilla resistance will develop against the US occupation and a new interim stooge administration if it ever is formed.

Large sections of the Iraqi population were armed by Saddam Hussein as part of his plans to resist a US and British invasion. Others have become armed in the ensuing turmoil following the collapse of the regime. This would provide the weapons for a guerilla war, backed up with mass support, to force the US out of Iraq. At this stage, there is no coherent force organised and capable of mounting such a campaign, however this can develop over time.

The stooge Iraqi regime, backed up by US forces will have no legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the population. As long as US imperialism remains in Iraq, it is only a matter of time before a more widespread guerilla struggle against the occupation develops. In that situation, US imperialism will face the prospect of a long and bloody conflict against a hostile population fighting for national liberation. A very different "animal" to deal with than the hated regime of Saddam Hussein.

A socialist programme

In the current crisis, independent trade unions are needed to protect and fight for the basic needs of the working class. Committees should be establishment in the cities, towns and local districts which encompass representatives from all ethnic and religious groupings to organise resistance to the US occupation and to fight for the basic neccessities that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis now lack.

Only a united movement of the Iraqi working class and poor peasantry can deliver a future for Iraq, free from imperialist and capitalist domination. Ultimately this future can only be achieved through a struggle for socialism. A mass socialist movement is needed to unite the country's workers and poor peasants. Such a movement would not only struggle against the US occupation but would also fight on a programme against privatisation and for the nationalised oil industry and the public sector to be placed under the democratic control of the working class and peasants.

The oil wealth could then be used through a planned economy to meet the economic and social needs of the people; a comprehensive health care system, free education, clean water, real jobs with decent wages and a massive programme of public works to rebuild the country's infrastructure. By removing the divisive and exploitative rule of imperialism and its local client elites, a socialist Iraq, as part of a socialist federation of Middle East states, could resolve the issues of self-determination of different national groups on a democratic and voluntary basis.

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