Sectarian violence has plagued Iraq since the February 22 destruction of the sacred Shia al-Askariya shrine (the “Golden Mosque”) in As Samarra, pushing the country dangerously close to civil war. Over the course of the last week further attacks and reprisals have killed at least 1300 people. As the US army in Iraq faces the prospect of being dragged into a bloody civil war, opinion polls in the United States show that support for the Bush administration is at an all time low. The conditions are being laid for an all out explosion both in Iraq and in the United States.
Divide and Rule
The US and UK led “coalition of the willing” stormed into Iraq, blindly confident that they would conquer the country, be able to occupy it with little difficulty, and build “democracy”. The road to democracy in Iraq would pave the Roadmap to Peace in Israel and bring a newfound peace and stability to the whole region. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether Bush and Blair actually believed this nonsense, or if it was simply for public consumption. In any case, the hopes and dreams of the imperialists lie in ruins. The immense wealth of the Iraqi oilfields has escaped them and the situation in the Middle East is the exact opposite of the promised stability, peace and democracy. In fact the whole situation has reached a critical state, in which any event could shake the foundations of any and all the regimes in the region. The recent explosion of violence in Iraq between Shia and Sunnis threatens to do just that.
The US-led occupation has been a series of one blunder after another. After all the talk about “building democracy” the US did not get the democracy it wanted in Iraq. They had hoped that the more secular groups around the former Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, would carry the day. His regime would be the most loyal to the US, and the most reliant on the support of the US military to maintain power. Instead, the more hard-line and radical Shia parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, with links to the regime in Iran, won the majority of seats.
This was a blow to US interests. When the US was first faced with a Shia insurgency in April 2004, they faced the prospect of Shias and Sunnis uniting in a national liberation struggle. The US was faced with stark choices: engage in a ruthless war against the united insurgents and be defeated, or avoid the defeat and withdraw in humiliation. Neither of these was really an option.
The Bush administration has no perspectives. Everywhere they are on the defensive – from Latin America to the Middle East to Afghanistan. They can only blindly react to events. The skill and subtlety used to secure US interests in the past has given way to crude displays of military and economic strength – to cowboy diplomacy. When faced with a united Iraqi insurgency, the US instinctively and reactively employed the tried and tested tactic of “divide and rule”.
A recent article on the Stratfor website (Of Mosques, Oil fields and Ports) explained the use of this tactic in this way: “The fact is that the U.S. strategy of dividing the Muslim world and playing one part off against the other is a defensible and sophisticated strategy -- even if it does not, in the end, turn out to be successful (and who can tell about that?) This is not the strategy the United States started with; the strategy emerged out of the failures in Iraq in 2003. But whatever its origins, it is the strategy that is being used, and it is not a foolish strategy.”
When faced with the united insurgency the US “adopted a long-term strategy of using the natural split between the country's Shiite and Sunni populations to first stabilize its own position, and then improve it.” They first reached out to the Shia, “doing everything possible to assure that there would be no Shiite rising to accompany that of the Sunnis.” Given that the national oppression the Shia suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein regime, this was not hard to do.
Immediately after the invasion, the Sunnis stood to lose the most and many rose up against the occupation. The Shias stood to gain the most from the patronage of the US occupiers and the main Shia parties collaborated with the US military administration. The US cynically used the Shia and the Kurds for their own purposes in Iraq, posing as their “liberators”. The imperialists are attempting to lay the blame for the recent bloodshed on any and all of the various groups involved, but the truth of the matter is that by playing the different national groups against one another the responsibility lies exclusively with the imperialists.
However, the US was not interested in simply handing power over to the Shia – out of fear that Iraq may become a satellite state of Iran, which would be a major defeat for the US and would have defeated the whole purpose of the war. The US looked to the Sunni’s to be a counterweight to the Shia in an increasingly delicate balance between the main parties of the Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis.
All the while the insurgency continued to grow. The US and the UK promised “a kinder, gentler, machine gun hand”. They argued that their armies were armies of liberation, not occupation, and that they would win the battle for hearts and minds. But the abuse and torture of Iraqis at the hands of US soldiers in Abu Ghraib and televised scenes of British soldiers beating Iraqi youths have shown otherwise. The rough tactics and abusive behaviour of the imperialist troops enraged the Iraqi people (indeed people around the world) – driving many into the insurgency. Strong pockets of resistance remained, particularly in Fallujah, which they smashed in the massacre of the city. The US quickly began to lose the “war on terror” in Iraq. Attacks on imperialist troops continue every day. Some 2300 US troops have died along with 103 British soldiers. These casualty figures are fueling the opposition to the war in both the US and the UK.
Rather than strengthening their position, the imperialists are now in a position of extreme weakness. The “divide and rule” tactics of US imperialism not only exploited the divisions in Iraqi society between Kurds, Shia, and Sunni, but also exacerbated the divisions within these groups. The participation of the moderate Sunni leadership in the elections provoked a split within the community. The hard line Islamists were opposed, but the moderates participated anyway.
Islamist hardliners faced the prospect of becoming irrelevant if the Sunni moderates joined in the new Iraqi government and collaborated with the occupation forces. The Sunni moderates would have no need to maintain the radical, armed elements around them, who would in fact jeopardize their relationship with the political leadership of the Shia and the imperialists. The only thing that could save them from extinction was the outbreak of hostilities – in the event of widespread violence or a civil war the moderate Sunni leadership would have to depend on the Islamists.
The imperialist occupation of Iraq has stoked fires of the religious, national and sectarian divisions in Iraq. We stand opposed to the dismemberment of Iraq, a development which would be against the interests of all Iraqi people and would seriously weaken the national liberation struggle against imperialism.
The Gates of Hell
The bombing of the “Golden Mosque” may have been designed to provoke just such a conflict. The more farsighted of the imperialists are not just concerned about a conflict in Iraq – they are genuinely concerned that an internecine war in Iraq could spread throughout the whole region.
Iraq was supposed to bring stability to the region, but it has only brought profound instability. How quickly the situation can change! Not even two months after Sharon split from Likud and formed Kadima, joined by Peres, Sharon lies incapacitated in a hospital bed and Peres left out to dry. Labour has shifted to the left with the victory of Peretz. Hamas won the legislative elections in the Palestinian Authority. The whole situation has been turned upside down and is extremely volatile. The US, the EU and Israel are actively attempting to undermine the Hamas government by withholding vital funds. The Roadmap to Peace lies in ruins and the conflict in Iraq could ignite the whole situation.
The prospects of civil war in Iraq could mean that the conflict spills over to neighbouring countries. Sunnis are the majority in the region, but nine countries in the area have sizeable Shia populations, including Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Yemen, Kuwait, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. A bloody conflict in Iraq could easily open up a conflict in these countries. Ali Shukri, a former Jordanian general told The New York Times, "The spillover of this is of concern for everybody in the region. When you take western Iraq, Anbar Province borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia; the southern part of Iraq borders Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran. If there is a conflict, a surge in violence, it becomes contagious in the region.”
Over one million refugees entered Jordan after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Now that the country faces serious economic difficulties, the Jordanian government fears that a civil war in Iraq will mean more refugees. The strain on the country could be too much. The Saudi regime hangs by a thread, and faces serious threats from “a restive Shia” population and a rise in Al-Qaeda attacks. A group calling itself Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has already openly stated its intention to take down the Saudi monarchy. The Al Qaeda group in Iraq has already claimed responsibility for bombings in Amman last year, and it is believed that it was a group in Iraq that attempted the February 24 bombing of Abqaiq, a Saudi oil refinery.
The whole region has been hit hard by economic stagnation and high unemployment. Conflict in the region will only make this economic crisis more acute. The storm and stress of economic and political strain could topple any one of the regimes in the region. Far from the stability the US had hoped for, they now face a rapidly declining situation and profound instability.
It is in the interests of the US and its allies to paint the Iraqi insurgency as the work of fundamentalists. They hope that by doing this they can justify the war against the insurgents as the “war on terror” and gain the support they require at home. The reality is that the insurgency is a genuine struggle of national liberation. The reactionary fundamentalists play but a small part in it. Terrorist attacks only represent about 10% of the total attacks on imperialist forces.
As Alan Woods explained in Iraqi Elections: a cynical deception:
“In any national liberation movement there are all kinds of different and even contradictory tendencies – reactionary as well as progressive. It cannot be denied that there are Islamic fundamentalist reactionaries fighting against the Americans as well as genuine Iraqi freedom fighters. In the same way, in the Resistance against the German occupation in Europe there were reactionary monarchists as well as Communists. This fact can in no way be used to call into question the progressive character of the national liberation movement in either case.”
Alongside the small forces of Islamic fundamentalist reactionaries there are many more genuine freedom fighters. While the genuine resistance to the occupation is carrying out a guerrilla war and focuses on military targets, the terrorists have killed scores of civilians with their car bombs and suicide bombers. The kidnappings and the bombing of civilians by the fundamentalists only play into the hands of the imperialists and against the genuine resistance.
Approximately 80% of the population of Iraq are against the occupation and support the resistance, which is made up of several groups. When the CEOSI (in Spain the National Campaign Against the Occupation and for the Sovereignty of Iraq) sent a delegation to Iraq they interviewed a representative of the resistance, Abu Yusef. He is a representative of the dissolved Iraqi Armed Forces that have been integrated into the resistance. He has explained that part of the resistance is being led by members of the former Iraqi Army and members of the Ba’ath Party, both of which have been officially dissolved. A political organization has been established that integrates the former members of the Army into the resistance – the Free Officers Movement (FOM), which takes its name from the organization set up by the group of Nasserite officials in the revolution of 1958 which overthrew the Monarchy. The FOM is joined by other organizations in the resistance, which includes the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance and the People’s Union, a group that split from the collaborationist Communist Party of Iraq. These groups, along with others, are discussing the establishment of a National Liberation Front.
In the interview with Yusef he explained that, "The Iraqi Resistance rejects terrorism, kidnappings, extortion, assaults on houses and attacks against temples; it protects the academic and public institutions, since they are a collective property of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi Resistance has as its aim the expulsion of the occupiers and the preservation of the unity of the territory of Iraq and the Iraqi people".
He explained that the Resistance does not identify with any ideological trend, be it nationalist or Islamic. "The different components of the Resistance share the common aim of expelling the occupiers and reject the idea of ideological hegemony." He stressed that it was necessary to keep the armed Resistance "…far away from religious fanaticism and from any ethnic or confessional identification".
Yusef is also very clear on what are legitimate targets of the resistance and what are not. "The occupiers, the traitors and the collaborationists [are legitimate targets of the armed activity]. The Iraqi Police and the National Guard are also targets. These are militias created by the occupiers to protect themselves from the Resistance and which are being used currently as the vanguard of the occupation forces [in the counter-insurgent operations]". Along with this he explains that the resistance does not carry out car bomb attacks or indiscriminate attacks that cause the death of Iraqi civilians.
It is clear that there is a genuine national resistance to the occupation – one that is distinct from the reactionary fundamentalists, whose actions only play into the hands of the imperialists. Each kidnapping, each car bomb, and each civilian killed in these acts give the imperialists the excuses and tools they need to brand the whole resistance as the act of terrorists.
From the above quotes it is clear that the national resistance movement is a collection of heterogeneous groups fighting for national liberation. Marxists participating in this struggle would not simply dissolve themselves into the broader movement but maintain their organizational and ideological independence. The struggle for national liberation can only succeed as a struggle for social liberation, and as Marxists it is our duty to state this clearly.
On the basis of capitalism and sectarianism there is no way forward. If the conflict in Iraq explodes into an all out civil war, untold numbers of people across the whole region will die senseless deaths.
But all is not lost. The people of Iraq, and of the whole of the Middle East, have strong anti-imperialist, revolutionary traditions. In the struggle against US imperialism the workers and youth must rediscover these traditions. The only way forward, and the only way to defeat imperialism is a united revolutionary struggle against the occupation, and against sectarianism.
Colossus with feet of clay
The Bush administration has its head in the sand. Bush has publicly stated that he doesn’t “buy the premise that there is going to be a civil war”. A civil war in Iraq is of course not written in stone, but it is a distinct possibility. Bush was asked in an interview if US troops would play a larger role in stopping the spread of sectarian violence in Iraq. His answer was “no”, adding that US soldiers would simply continue to train Iraqis to deal with the violence.
Not everyone in the Bush administration is as stupid as he is. John Negroponte, chief of US intelligence (and someone with a lot experience in these matters), has openly stated that the threat of a civil war is real, and that it could spread throughout the region. He, along with many others in the administration, realizes that this would be a complete disaster for the US. They will scramble to find a solution to the question, but the answer will escape them.
It seems impossible that if the violence continues to escalate, and that if a civil war does break out in Iraq, that US soldiers will not be dragged into the conflict. The current Iraqi regime relies solely on US military power for support. If the violence continues the US will be dragged into the conflict, even kicking and screaming if that has to be the case, and the body bags of US soldiers will continue to pile up.
However, Bush is in a precarious situation. He has to publicly state that the US will not get involved in a civil war. The morale in the army is low. A recent poll was conducted amongst US soldiers in Iraq, which revealed that 72 percent of US troops serving in Iraq believe the United States should exit within the next year. Nearly 25 percent said the troops should leave immediately. A poll done last March by The San Francisco Chronicle also revealed that 70 percent of troops in Iraq characterize their morale as low or very low. 75 percent of soldiers said that the leadership of their battalion was poor or showed a lack of concern for the well-being of the soldiers. These figures are astounding. Given these figures, it is questionable whether the US army could even be used in the event of a civil war in Iraq.
Better than anyone, the soldiers know that they are not in Iraq for the reasons they were told. They see no reason to be there. They face attacks, the threat of death, and a hostile population daily. Many are reservists who just want to go home. Facing the prospect of a growing conflict in which many more US soldiers will die, it is entirely possible that the tensions in the army will break. The US military could collapse in Iraq. The US have forgotten the lessons of the past and walked right into a situation which is strikingly similar to what they faced 40 years ago in Vietnam – a demoralized army that simply wants to go home, fighting a war they cannot win, and facing a serious defeat on the home front.
The United States is the most powerful country on earth, but it is far from invincible. One way or another they face certain defeat in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the forces of imperialism control only Kabul – and their control is tenuous at best. Large areas of the country remain under the control of the Taliban and the warlords. Canada has just taken control of the international forces in Afghanistan and has been warned by the US that they will face an increase in attacks as the warlords traditionally launch their offensives in the spring.
The US is a colossus with feet of clay. For all its military and economic might it has been unable to subjugate Afghanistan and Iraq. The US and its allies have not really achieved any of their aims in Iraq, nor Afghanistan, and it is clear that the US empire has overstretched itself. The US has spent billions on the war and the occupation, like a wound gushing blood this will eventually drain the US economy. In fact the US is sinking quickly into a quagmire from which they will not easily be able to extricate themselves. The adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan will prove to be absolute disasters for US imperialism economically, strategically, politically, and military.
The Home Front
Polls in the United States paint an even bleaker picture for the Bush administration. Bush’s job approval rating has fallen to 34 percent – a low level from which most Presidents never recover. 59 percent of respondents to the poll disapproved of his performance on the job. The poll also showed that the rating for Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq has fallen to 30%, down from 37% in January. 62% of respondents believed that US efforts to bring stability in Iraq were going badly.
It isn’t just the war in Iraq that plagues the Bush administration. There is still outrage over the government’s inept and callous handling of Hurricane Katrina. This resentment and anger will grow as video footage released on March 1 shows clearly that the Bush administration was warned of the dangers of the hurricane. The video footage proves that Bush was made personally aware of the danger of the levees bursting, which he claimed he knew nothing about. This has enraged the American people, who can now plainly see that Bush blatantly lied to them and ignored the dangers of the hurricane that killed thousands. Bush’s callous disregard for the thousands that died in Katrina will be met tenfold by the fury of the American people.
Then there is Dick Cheney. Aside from the fact that he is an inept hunter who nearly killed his friend, his approval ratings have dropped to an all-time low. 46% of people have a negative view of him, and only 18% a positive view – down from 23% in January! Newspapers in the US are openly discussing the fact that the Bush administration may turn out to be the most unpopular in US history, even more unpopular than Nixon – and we all know what happened to him! As things continue to get worse for Bush, the rats will begin to abandon the sinking ship, and Bush could eventually face regime change at home.
These polls clearly show a growing mood of radicalization in the United States. Over the past period we have seen the New York transit workers’ strike and the struggle of the autoworkers. The Soldiers of Solidarity are giving a strong militant lead to the whole of the US working class in their struggle at Delphi. This struggle represents the first sign of a return to the militant traditions on which the UAW and the CIO were founded in the 1930s. This marks an important and profound change in the situation in the United States, and is a sign of things to come. The class struggle is on the order of the day in the United States of America.
Once the US working class begins to move, no force on earth will be able to stop it. The greatest danger to the Bush administration is not the war in Iraq, nor hurricanes, nor threats to port security, but the might of the US working class.
The United States and Britain face defeat in Iraq. However, as in Vietnam the imperialists will ultimately be defeated on the home front. It isn’t just a question of ending the war – it must be a question of never allowing such tragedies to occur again. We cannot stop at simply demanding an end to the occupation, but must link this struggle with the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. It is only on this basis that we can truly defeat imperialism and bring peace to the Middle East and the whole world.
- Three years of imperialist occupation of Iraq - countless thousands dead and descent into civil war by Phil Mitchinson (March 2, 2006)
- US arrogance has no limits in Iraq by Sonia Prevato (November 16, 2005)
- US-style democracy in Iraq – incendiary bombs and white phosphorous! by Fred Weston (November 16, 2005)
- The New Iraq Constitution: “Covering the Sun with a Sieve” by Nadim al-Mahjoub (October 14, 2005)
- From Tal Afar to Basra: fanning the flames of discontent in Iraq by Maarten Vanheuverswyn (September 27, 2005)
- The War in Iraq – Two years on byRob Lyon (March 18, 2005)