From Socialist Voice (Dublin), April 2003.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
DESPITE THE sandstorm of official disinformation clouding what is happening in Iraq one thing is crystal clear, the optimistic scenario presented by Bush and Blair of a quick easy military victory is not going to happen. Both leaders, but Blair in particular, have gambled heavily on a short war and speedy victory.
They hoped that faced with a display of overwhelming military firepower the Iraqi regime would crumble, troops would desert or surrender, there would be popular uprisings against Saddam Hussein, those loyal to him would be recognise the odds against them and give up. Meanwhile from Basra to Baghdad the US and British forces would be greeted by local people as “liberators”.
It is impossible to predict precisely what course this war will now take. However the minds of the US and British commanders are now opening to the possibility that their nightmare scenario of a protracted conflict with every objective stubbornly defended, a conflict centred on house to house fighting in the rubble of Baghdad and with mounting casualities, could be realised.
Whether or not this happens it is clear that the Bush administration has miscalculated and that they will pay a military price for this. In the run up to the war Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield brushed aside the more cautious military voices in the Pentagon who wanted a much more sizeable military force in the region before risking an invasion.
Rumsfield insisted on going ahead with a relatively light force. The claimed figure of 225,000 troops includes airforce and naval personnel. The ground forces are not much more than half that. The Pentagon had wanted a military build up in the north both to ensure that they controlled the oil rich Kurdish region after the war and to open a second front against Baghdad. The decision by Turkey not to allow a US build up across its soil scuppered these plans.
Rumsfield’s calculation was that there would be a Taliban style collapse of the Saddam forces and that his troops would be able to race to Baghdad with the areas to the rear of his advancing forces rising in support of the invasion. He forgot that missionaries with bayonets are rarely welcomed in any country. While the people of Iraq, especially the Shias in the south, may despise Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime, they are every bit as hostile to the US. As one civilian interviewed just after the invasion put it: “we don’t want to be ruled by Saddam, but we don’t want to be ruled by the CIA either.”
No evidence of support for the invasion has emerged, even in the south. And the pictures from Baghdad of angry crowds at the funerals of civilians killed by the aerial bombardment shows that the “allied” forces are likely to encounter bitter hostility if and when they enter that city.
Rumsfield also estimated that air superiority would make up for lack of troops and heavy armour on the ground. As well as airstrikes pounding Iraqi positions with cluster bombs and massive explosives, he is relying of the helicopter gunships to act as “tanks in the sky” spearheading this 21st century blitzkrieg.
On this basis he has charged to Baghdad to face the Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard and local militias with a relatively small force, leaving a supply route stretching hundreds of miles through hostile territory to his rear. Unless some unforeseen circumstance causes the Iraqi resistance to collapse it is likely that the US generals will have to change tactics. They will have to spend time and resources trying to quell the resistance in the south. They will also need to move more troops and heavy armour into the area.
Bush and Blair cannot afford to lose this war or even to get bogged down in the desert for a prolonged period. But to win, if there is stiff and prolonged resistance especially in Baghdad, they will have to escalate their attacks. This will mean indiscriminate shelling and bombing of residential areas with massive casualties. We had a small foretaste when the British “desert rats” began to shell Basra using the pretext of supporting a supposed “popular uprising”.
A victory won by way of the devastation of Iraq, the reduction of its cities to Grozny style rubble, and the deaths of thousands of civilians would be no victory at all. They will not be able to hide the humanitarian crisis that even a short war will unleash. Sixty per cent of Iraqis are entirely dependent on the food rations of the UN food for oil programme. This has been completely disrupted with $10 billion of goods including $2.5 billion of food stranded outside the country. Efforts by the military to distribute aid, much of it for propaganda purposes, have resulted only in chaos. Aid that was distributed to more than 20 million people through 44,000 outlets will simply not arrive leaving millions facing starvation.
Militarily they might be able to hoist the flag of a “liberated Iraq” above a mound of rubble in Baghdad but the aftermath in Iraq and the political cost to US Imperialism throughout the world would mean this was no victory at all.
The original idea was that much of Saddam’s army would be held intact to keep the country together after the war. This is not going to happen and a “victory” based on the obliteration of the regime and therefore the control of the country from Baghdad will inevitably open up secessionist tendencies in the south and north that will be very difficult to resist.
Unable to open a second front with their own forces in the Kurdish north the US have been forced to lean on the local Kurdish militias, some 60,000 strong, to attack Iraqi positions especially the towns of Mosul and Kirkuk and to seize the oil fields. In doing this are sowing the wind and could well reap the whirlwind.
If the Kurds feel they have driven the Iraqi army out of the Kurdish areas it will be very difficult for the US to coax them back under the heel of any post Saddam regime in Baghdad. Turkey has already sent troops across the border because of its fear that control of the oil of northern Iraq could be used as the basis for an independent Kurdish state which in turn could reignite the separatist revolt in the Kurdish areas of Turkey.
Iran also has an interest in a dismembered Iraq and has already sent its pro Iranian anti Saddam Iraqi militias into the north of the country. Their aim is eventually to move to the Shia areas in the south to encourage opposition to whatever government rules in Baghdad.
Bush and Blair are now faced with the prospect of a hard war. If they do manage to win they will be faced with an even more difficult peace. The longer the war, the greater the devastation they will wreck on Iraq. In turn the task of holding anything together even with a long term presence of sixty or seventy thousand US troops will be all the more difficult.
The political price that US Imperialism will pay will not just be in Iraq. This war will unleash a tidal wave of anger across the Arab world in particular. Already there have been huge and angry demonstrations in countries like the Yemen and Jordan. As these movements develop the target will not just be Bush and Blair, the anger will also be directed against the corrupt local rulers who are seen as having bent the knee to Imperialism. A lenghty war with the pictures of the carnage wrought by US and British bombing and shelling broadcast across the Arab world could trigger insurrectionary movements and the toppling of some of the pro-western Arab regimes.
This war, no matter what the outcome, is likely to be a turning point internationally. If it turns into a long drawn out conflict it will deal a blow to the idea that US Imperialism, because of its overwhelming economic and military might, cannot be challenged. The myth built up during the 1990s of modern “clean” wars that can be won from the air will be exposed.
A military victory won through the destruction of Iraqi cities and the slaughter of thousands of civilians would be a hollow victory indeed. It would have been achieved at the cost of greater global instability and the angry alienation of billions of people across the globe. This ‘war on terror” will not cut across terrorism but will lead to more terrorist attacks.
A “victory” of this character would in reality be a political defeat for US Imperialism. The US emerged strengthened from the last gulf war, from the war against Serbia and, temporarily at least, from the war in Afghanistan. This war could have the opposite effect.
Whatever the eventual outcome the horror of what is happening in Iraq will demonstrate to working class people and young people across the world the real nature of the world we live in. Conflict, instability and wars fought for profit are now the very nature of capitalism in crisis.
The struggle to end this war is also a struggle against the system that produces wars and for the alternative – a socialist world in which natural resources would be shared equitably and our industry and skills would be used to produce things that benefit people, not squandered on armaments.
THE FIRST days of this war have shown clearly what it is really about. The first action of the “allied” forces in the area they “liberated” was to make a military beeline for the oil fields to make sure that the black gold under Iraqi soil was secure.
This war is about prestige and plunder. One right wing correspondent, Amity Shlaes, writing in the Financial Times soon after the start of the war explains the real war aims: “come reconstruction time the single most important thing that the US and Britain can do to facilitate stability is to privatise Iraq’s reserves – even if that means cutting deserving Kurdish leaders out of the bounty.”
If Iraq is “liberated” the oil wealth will be divvied up among foreign and especially US oil corporations who are preparing themselves for a profits bonanza. Iraq’s oil is accessible and therefore cheap to extract. The Centre for Global Energy Studies estimates operating costs in Iraq at 50–75 cents a barrel compared to $2.50 in Saudi Arabia.
It’s not just oil that is whetting the appetite of western corporations. Even before the destruction had started US companies were clambering over each other to get first in the queue for reconstruction contracts. Bush’s junior partner Tony Blair has been left whimpering over the fact that, with very few exceptions, only US companies have been allowed to tender for this lucrative business.
Meanwhile even before Umm Qasr was “made safe” a $4,8million contract to administer Iraq’s ports had been given to Stevedoring Services of America.
Big construction firms, engineering companies, telecoms giants are no doubt rubbing their hand with glee at every bomb or shell which blows up part of Iraq’s infrastructure.
It’s a war for oil and profit.
“IT WAS an outrage, an obscenity. The severed hand on the metal door, the swamp of blood and mud across the road, the human brains inside a garage, the incinerated, skeletal remains of an Iraqi mother and her three small children in their still smouldering car. Two missiles from an American jet killed them all - by my estimate, more than 20 Iraqi civilians, torn to pieces before they could be ‘liberated’ by the nation which destroyed their lives. Who dares, I ask myself, to call this ‘collateral damage’?” Robert Fisk (Abu Taleb Street, Baghdad), The Independent, 27 March 2003.
Millions of people around the world have been filled with horror, outrage and anger at the daily bombing of innocent people in Baghdad and Basra. Thousands will die in similar atrocities ordered by the war criminals Bush and Blair, all in the cause of profit.
Imperialism’s drive towards war in Iraq provoked and gave rise to the biggest demonstrations in history, up to 30 million in one day alone. Now that the war is in full swing and television is broadcasting its horrors to billions globally, the anti-war movement has the potential to mobilise hundreds of millions into protests, demonstrations and strike action to stop this war.
To stop this war would mean building a movement so powerful that the interests of Bush and Blair are put at greater risk from a movement at home than by not pursuing the war. It is the trade unions which potentially have the most power to stop this war.
The European Trade Union Confederation should name the date for a 24 hour Europe wide work stoppage against the war. The Socialist Party is calling for a special TUC congress to discuss plans for the calling of a 24 hour work stoppage in Britain to mobilise its seven million members against the war. In the South of Ireland, ICTU should name the date for when its 500,000 members will be called upon to take strike action against Bertie Ahern allowing US warplanes to use Shannon airport.
The organised working class have the power to bring society to a halt and by doing so make it impossible for Bush and Blair to continue this war. During the period ahead, it will not only be the graphic pictures of dead Iraqis that spur many more people into joining the anti-war movement. US and British forces using the madcap war plan of the criminal psychopath Donald Rumsfeld may end up in street to street conflict with a local population intent on resisting their colonial invasion. There will be massive casualties and deaths amongst the US and British troops. The death of large numbers of so-called “coalition troops” would resurrect the Vietnam war syndrome and create the Iraq war syndrome. Many people who now support this war because they believed the lies that it would be short, and painless would become anti-war once they witness the bodybags coming home.
Trade union activists should be organising and pursuing campaigns to force the union leaders to turn their anti-war rhetoric into a mass mobilisation of the organised working class to stop this war.
Last updated: 26.7.2012