Socialist View, No. 17, Summer 2006
Will the Ayatollahs and Bush reach a compromise? Or...
Will the US bomb Iran?
By Stephen Boyd
In mid-June Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad. He flew in unannounced; the Prime Minister Al Maliki was only told five minutes before he met Bush that he was in the country. Bush spent five hours in the Green Zone, (a heavily fortified area through which you must pass seven checkpoints in order to gain access) within which the Iraqi government and the US administrators are incarcerated, never stepping foot into the "real" Iraq. His visit was ironically meant as a boost to the new government but it was also to try to signal that the US had made a step forward in its war against the "resistance" movement after the killing of Zarqawi.
The next day US troops and Iraqi security forces patrolled the streets of Baghdad in an attempt to stop the sectarian killings and claimed to have killed 150 and detained 700 in raids against Al Qaeda. This operation was spun as a major success. For a few days the streets of Baghdad were "safer" as there was a fall off in sectarian attacks and attacks on the US and Iraqi forces. Yet what is proclaimed as a success exposes the weakness of the US occupation - the only way they could temporarily reduce the violence in Baghdad was to put 70,000 troops onto the streets and impose a curfew at 9.00 pm! At the same time, reported attacks and bombings took place in Kirkuk, Tikrit and Basra killing and injuring hundreds.
These events speak volumes about how the US is losing its war of occupation in Iraq, but they also help explain its apparent about turn in relation to its dealings with Iran. Bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, US imperialism doesn't have the capacity for another pre-emptive war.
The Bush administration's announcement that it was prepared to hold talks with Iran for the first time in 27 years is a major climbdown. For three years the US has threatened to impose new sanctions and take military action against Iran if it didn't halt its nuclear power programme. Some amongst the Bush administration and its advisors have even suggested that the use of tactical nuclear missiles against Iran's nuclear projects, or launch a full scale invasion. This shift towards diplomacy and compromise is a recognition that US imperialism is suffering from a military and economic overstretch. It is recognition of what many of the Bush regime's military advisors have been telling him, that there is no military option open to them in regard to Iran at this time.
The deal which was delivered by Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, includes "acceptance of a civil nuclear energy programme, equipment and co-operation on the construction of reactors by big western nuclear engineering contractors and the prospect of ultimately keeping some national uranium enrichment projects", The Guardian 8 June 2006.
Attempts by the Bush administration to fully isolate Iran have failed as Russia and China refused to support sanctions against a country that is an important trading "partner". This is a defeat for the US administration which was attempting to get an enforceable UN Security Council decision that they could use to justify or threaten a military attack on Iran. Even Tony Blair refused to back military action against Iran due to the negative impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the popularity of the Labour Party, which is currently behind the Tories in the opinion polls. Opinion polls are also worrying the Republican Party as George Bush's approval rating is below 38% and a majority of Americans are opposed to the war and occupation in Iraq. With the death toll of US troops now over 2,500 and US spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approaching $1 trillion, Bush cannot afford the potential domestic backlash from another military adventure. Even if his domestic political standing were stronger it would still not be possible for the US to invade Iran as some neo-cons have been urging.
The shift away from sanctions and military action by the US was underlined by comments from Condoleezza Rice who said "The Iranian people believe that have a right to civil nuclear energy...We acknowledge that right". In response Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, "We think that if there is goodwill, a breakthrough to get out of a situation they have created for themselves is possible".
The US military is stretched to its limits, bogged down in an unwinnable war in Iraq. The Iraqi resistance movement has dealt major blows against the US military including demoralising its troops who are forced to carry out long and repeated tours of duty in a country in which they are hated and everyone is a potential enemy.
The US invasion forces in Iraq were not greeted by cheering crowds waving flags and throwing flowers, but neither did they incur major resistance from the civilian population. There was no stomach amongst the Iraqi people to "rise" up and risk their lives in military action against the US invasion in order to defend the hated regime of Saddam Hussein. However, Iran is fundamentally different. Iran is ruled by a reactionary Islamic fundamentalist dictatorship dominated by the Shia clergy. This regime is hated by the majority of Iranians. However in the event of a US or Israeli military assault or even invasion, the majority of the Iranian population would nevertheless rally behind the regime in order to defend Iran from their imperialist aggressors. Iran is also a country many times the size of Iraq with twice its population that hasn't suffered the ravages of 12 years of UN sanctions resulting in the deaths of up to two million people as in Iraq.
The Bush regime is also wary of military action against Iran because of how it would impact on Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East. Through their links to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Islamic Jihad and now Hamas in the Occupied Territories, Iran could make life very difficult for the US and its allies in the Israeli government. An invasion or an attack would cause a reaction amongst a majority of Arabs and the other nationalities of the Middle East, but in particular the Shia. But it is in Iraq that an attack or invasion of Iran would have the biggest repercussions. The "new" Iraqi government is dominated by the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shia forces. The largest and most influential of these forces, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) led by Ayatollah Al Sistani and the representatives of Muqtada Al Sadr and others, are influenced by the Iranian regime. Reports indicate that Iran's religious dictators have been "restraining" Shia forces in Iraq, pushing them towards involvement in the US backed "political process". It is not in the interests of the Iranian regime to have the majority Shia population engaged in an all out confrontation with imperialism as this could spill over into Iran and impact on their own discontented populous. This would change in the event of an attack or invasion of Iran and could lead to a fragmentation and collapse of Iraq's coalition government and a move by thousands of Shia into military resistance against the occupation forces.
Iran's president Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 on the back of promises to take radical measures to combat 30% unemployment and 24% inflation and to alleviate the conditions facing the poor. So far he has failed to take measures which have fundamentally impacted on the lives of working class people and the poor. Opposition to the Iranian regime is growing amongst the working class and rural masses. In order to deflect this anger away from his government and the clerical dictatorship, Ahmadinejad has tried to whip up nationalist fervour by using the nuclear power issue and feeding off the threats from US imperialism. Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic rants that included a claim the Holocaust never happened and that Israel should be destroyed have made him a hero of Europe's neo-nazis. But they also expose him as a dangerous demagogue, who rather than bringing in reforms to help the working class and poor, has instead been engaged in vicious anti-worker attacks.
Opposition to the Iranian clerical dictatorship has been growing. Strikes and protests against the government have been occurring sometimes on a daily basis and involving thousands of workers.
While the world has been focused on the nuclear stand off, the Iranian regime has been cracking down on any opposition from workers, women, students or national minorities.
100,000 attended this year's May Day "protest" in Tehran. It was a gathering organised by the Workers' House, the official state union and was meant as a token gathering at which pro-government and anti-imperialist rhetoric would be trotted out. However workers used it as an opportunity to vent their anger against the regime, and chanted slogans calling for strikes, the right to organise, etc. The organisers called in the security forces to break up the protest. It is illegal in Iran to go on strike or engage in collective bargaining because Ayatollah Khomeini declared them un-Islamic!
A demonstration of 5,000 women took place in Tehran on 12 June. This was the biggest protest by women since Ayatollah Khomeini's counter-revolution consolidated its power in 1981. The women and their supporters were protesting for the basic rights they are denied under Iran's theocratic laws. The state sent in four mini-buses of police officers who attacked the women with batons, tear gas and pepper spray and arrested 60. A strike by thousands of drivers employed by the Vahed Bus Company in Tehran demanding better pay and working conditions was brutally repressed and its leaders jailed. In an extract from an appeal by the workers, they outline the measures that workers engaging in struggle can expect to be used against them.
"On behalf of the 17,000 workers of the Vahed Bus Co. of Tehran we inform the workers' organizations of the world and all those who have been moved by the suppression of the most basic human rights, that today, January 28th, our widespread strike was confronted by the unprecedented attack of the agents of the Islamic Republic.
"On the previous night they attacked our homes, even took our young children to prison, and a large number that is certainly over hundreds, were arrested.
"What was the strike about? For the release of Mr. Ossanlou and other leaders of the union, who were also without any reason and through bullying thrown into jail; signing a collective contract; union recognition; for a pay rise and the like. Can you believe that for these demands such a merciless and massive war was started? The Islamic Republic has done this and we have no choice other than to continue our struggle in a more determined and united way".
Ahmadinejad's government is also facing growing opposition amongst some of Iran's national minorities (who make up 40% of the population). The Azeris have been involved in protests and recently troops fired and killed demonstrators. There are 100,000 troops stationed in Iranian Azerbijan because of the unrest.
The Iranian working class and rural masses have a rich tradition of struggle. During the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which overthrew the Shah, the workers and peasants moved towards overthrowing capitalism. After a four month long general strike, the Shah fled the country and the working class established Shora (councils) to take control of their factories. Elements of workers' control of production and dual power existed as the peasantry also seized the land and Shora were established by rank and file soldiers in the army. The main parties of the left, Tudeh (Communist Party), Fedayeen and the Mujahadeen (who had more support in Iran than the Mullahs) all followed the Stalinist two-stagist theory that it was first necessary to develop a democratic capitalist state before a struggle for socialism could be waged. So incredibly they backed Khomeini! They allowed his forces to take control of the mass movement, and takeover the Shora, thus they handed the revolutionary struggle over to counter-revolutionary forces. In the years that followed, Khomeini's dictatorship murdered tens of thousands of opponents aping the methods of the Shah's regime and implemented draconian fundamentalist Islamic law and controls. It was Ayatollah Khomeini and his faction of the Shia clergy along with the betrayals of the Iranian left that saved capitalism in Iran.
Threat to cut oil
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei prior to the recent compromise proposals threatened to cut Iranian oil exports in the event of sanctions or a, military assault on Iran. As the worlds fourth largest producer of oil, (second largest proven oil and gas reserves) this in itself would pose problems for world capitalism which is already dealing with a supply crisis. He also threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz through which 30% of the world's oil travels. If this had happened or indeed if it were to happen in the event of the US/EU proposal being rejected by Iran and the situation escalating towards confrontation once again, US imperialism would send its fleet to the Strait and use force against Iran to keep it open.
Yet Iran cannot just cut its oil exports without major consequences. Iran's income from oil exports is $53 billion a year half of the country's annual budget. The economy is already in a mess and political and social opposition to the regime is growing as a consequence. A major drop in its oil revenues would deepen the problems facing Ahmadinejad. Therefore it is likely that both the US and Iran will try to find a way out of this crisis through compromise rather than confrontation.
Oppose nuclear power
The Socialist Party is opposed to nuclear power (see other article in this issue). We are also opposed to nuclear weapons because they truly are weapons of mass destruction and we stand for unilateral nuclear disarmament. All nuclear powers should immediately disarm and dispose of their nuclear weapons. Therefore we do not support the Iranian government developing nuclear power stations or nuclear weapons. It is not in the interests of the working class and masses of Iran or the Middle East that a mini-nuclear arms race occurs. However we are opposed to the hypocrites from the biggest nuclear power on the planet, the US, using sanctions or military force against Iran to stop its nuclear programme.
As socialists we support the overthrow of the theocratic dictatorship that rules Iran. But we believe that it is up to the working class and the rural masses of Iran to overthrow this hated regime, not US imperialism. You only have to look at the nightmare of Iraq to see that US imperialism's intervention into Iran would be a disaster for the Iranian people.
Socialists in the west should campaign against US aggression against the Iranian people as well as giving whatever assistance and solidarity we can to Iranian workers engaged in struggle against the Ayatollah's dictatorship. Building on the true traditions of the 1979 Iranian revolution, the working class and rural masses can achieve freedom from repression and economic exploitation through a struggle for a socialist Iran in which all of the country's huge wealth can be utilised for the needs of all.