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Peter Hadden & Stephen Boyd

Iraq – Occupation, the Reality of ‘Liberation’

(April 2003)

From Socialist Voice, 17 April 2003.
Downloaded with thanks from the Socialist Party Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CONTEMPORARY HISTORIAN of ancient Rome, Tacitus, thus famously described the results of Roman military conquest: “they make a desert and call it peace”. Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have gone one better; their term for the wasteland they have created in Iraq is “liberation”.

The sight of “joyful” Iraqis jumping on the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Tardus Square was the image transmitted around the world to convince us that this indeed was a “liberation”. Only later was it revealed that the square was sealed off by US tanks, that the crowd of celebrating Iraqis who had been allowed in was no more than 150 strong and that it included members of US puppet, Ahmed Chalabi’s, misnamed “Free Iraqi Forces”.

There is no doubt that a majority of Iraqis were glad to see the back of the hated Saddam dictatorship. But, among the mass of the population, hatred of Saddam has not translated into any deep or lasting welcome for the US and British forces.

Baghdad in flames

The real picture of post Saddam Iraq is not the manufactured images transmitted from Tardus Square. It is the flames that very quickly lit up the Baghdad skyline as the city descended into an orgy of gun battles, arson and looting. Government buildings, hospitals and homes were ransacked. Priceless artefacts including 100,000 stone tools, Babylonian and Assyrian treasures and much more, were destroyed or stolen as the city’s museums were looted.

Similar scenes were repeated in Basra, Mosul and elsewhere. Meanwhile the population of much of the country was left without electricity or water.

The real priorities of the US and British forces - and the real reasons for this war - were soon obvious. In Baghdad, troops defended the Oil Ministry while they watched hospitals being pillaged. Looting also followed the fall of the Kurdish city of Kirkuk but the US responded, not by going into the city, but by sending 2,000 troops to “secure” the Kirkuk oilfields.

The point has not been lost on an increasingly angry population. Less than a week after the fall of Baghdad, US marines were forced to put up barricades outside the Palestine Hotel as a large crowd staged an anti US protest. Al Jazeera quotes one demonstrator: “One day or another honest Iraqis are going to force out the Americans, not for the sake of Saddam Hussein, but for the sake of Iraq.”

Hollow victory

The military victory won by the US and British forces promises to turn out to be a hollow victory. Their hope of a surgical strike that would decapitate the regime but leave the army and the civil administration intact, was not realised.

Instead the regime has been atomised, with soldiers melting into the civilian population, with government buildings going up in smoke and with basic services collapsing. The successful invasion represents occupation, not liberation. But it is still quite a shallow occupation.

“Coalition” forces occupy the ports, airports, main roads, city centres and, of course, the oil fields but little else. Beyond this, they have left a vacuum, a vacuum that is very quickly being filled by rival armed militias. Iraq was held together by the iron fist of Saddam ‘srepression. The US military victory has removed this, but put nothing in its place. So, in the absence of any alternative, the seeds of bitter divisions along ethnic, religious and tribal lines are being sown. There have been clashes between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims in Baghdad, between rival Shi’ite groups in the south and between Kurds and Arabs in the divided city of Mosul. This scramble for control is likely to intensify, with the possibility that the Iraqi state could effectively disintegrate.

The assortment of stooges, exiles and rival tribal leaders that the US are desperately trying to bring together to provide a civilian cover for US military rule have no real basis of support and are incapable of unifying the country. Ahmed Chalabi, the man being touted in the foreign media as a “possible future leader of Iraq” is a convicted fraudster.

In Basra the tribal chief appointed by the British to govern the city turns out to be a former officer in Saddam’s army. His appointment has provoked hostile demonstrations both from those who oppose his association with the old regime and from representatives of other tribal leaders who fear being left out in the cold.

Having destroyed the old authority, the reality now is that the only force that the US can rely on to maintain some semblance of the territorial integrity of Iraq is the US military. Blair’s assurance that the country will be handed over to an Iraqi administration and that there will be elections in a year, will probably turn out to be another empty promise.

Given the fact that the Shias, who have suffered a double oppression under Saddam, are the majority, and that the largest Shia militias and embryonic parties lean to Iran, the results of an election could turn out to be as unpalatable to the Pentagon as the return of Saddam. The likelihood is that instead of “democracy” there will be a long, and probably a bloody, US occupation.

In order to govern the country, they will be compelled to try to reconstruct part of the old regime, bringing back police officers, sections of the army and Ba’athist party officials. They will lean on these forces to try to hold the country together using much of the same coercive methods as the old regime. In particular they will use force as necessary to prevent the Kurds from taking control of the Kirkut oil fields and setting up their own state.

Corporate looting

Unlike the latter years of Saddam, this will be a pro western dictatorship. The looting of Iraq that has taken place so far has been horrendous but it is nothing when compared to the plunder on a grand scale that is to come. The new administration of retired US General Jay Garner and his government of stooges are set to part privatise the oil industry and hand the 110 billion barrels of known reserves over to western, mainly US oil corporations.

The billions of dollars worth of reconstruction contracts, that Iraq will be made to pay for from its oil wealth, are being given to US companies. This means that much of the infrastructure of the country will end up in US corporate hands. The “liberated” ports have been given to US Company, Stevedoring Services of America. Airports, water and telecommunications are all in line to be sold off.

This systematic corporate looting of Iraq is certain to provoke hostility and resistance to the military occupation. For Bush and Blair the political, and eventually the military, costs of their victory, are ultimately likely to greatly outweigh the immediate benefits.

The invasion produced anger and opposition internationally, but especially across the Arab world. The effects are likely to be felt in the form of future terrorist attacks as well as the destabilising of those Arab regimes like Jordan and Saudi Arabia who secretly offered a helping hand to the US forces.

Within Iraq US and British troops are likely to face guerrilla attacks, including suicide attacks, from an increasingly hostile population.

United struggle

Meanwhile for the Iraqi people the nightmare of cruise missiles, cluster bombs and tank shells is likely to be followed by the nightmare of military repression, ethnic conflict, hunger and poverty. While it is difficult to present a way forward that seems viable in this situation, Iraq’s own quite recent history provides a key. During the 1950s the Communist Party had a mass base of support in the country, largely overcoming tribal and religious divisions, and led the opposition to the monarchy. The working class played the key role in the revolutionary movement of 1958-60 that toppled the monarchy, and drove reactionaries like Chalabi into exile.

Unfortunately the leadership of the Communist Party held this movement back and the opportunity to build a socialist Iraq was missed. The result was a coup in 1963 which marked the beginning of the reign of the Ba’ath Party.

A new struggle against occupation and against the imperialist looting of the country could again unite the working class and oppressed across religious, national and tribal barriers. If such a movement can be built, this time it should not stop half way. The alternative to imperialist occupation and ethnic conflict is a united struggle for a socialist Iraq.

Iraqi’s Not Prepared to Die for Saddam

ON THE day that US and British imperialism launched its cruise missiles on Baghdad in an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein, the US also launched a new offensive in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al Qaida.

One and half years after the supposed ending of the war in Afghanistan the US are still fighting to try and secure the “peace”. The war in Iraq is not over and will continue in a different form far beyond the declarations of victory by White House officials on CNN and Sky News. The first phase of this war has seen Saddam’s regime swept aside not quite as easily as the Taliban, but nevertheless with relative ease. But now Bush and Blair face a real battle, to deal with the mess that their war for oil has created. Just like Afghanistan they face a massive task, which may eventually see them defeated.

The Socialist Party had explained prior to the war that it was impossible to predict the scale of resistance if any that the invaders of Iraq would face. This was due to the lack of information regarding the consciousness of the Iraqi people and how they would view the invasion. Donald Rumsfeld had predicted that US and British troops would be greeted with open arms and as liberators. Events have shown this to be a false hope. US and British troops not only faced resistance but had to adopt the tactic of not occupying and taking urban areas on the way to Baghdad because they feared becoming bogged down in battles which would tie up large sections of their forces.

In the end the US and Britain were able to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime for a number of key reasons. They had huge military superiority in terms of technology and weaponry and a control of the air. Massive air strikes devastated whole sections of the Iraqi army and in the process killed thousands of innocent civilians. On top of this the US had already inflicted a serious blow against the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War, and had further weakened Iraq militarily and socially over the last 12 years through their murderous sanctions, which claimed the lives of a million people. The reality is that the US has been involved in a “continuous war” against Iraq since 1991, the fall of Baghdad in a few hours was the result of this 12 year process.

However the main reason why Bush and Blair have been victorious in phase one of this war, is because of the total lack of support amongst the Iraqi people for the hated regime of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi people faced with the world’s number one military superpower were not prepared to sacrifice their lives to defend a dictatorship, which had brutalised their country for 25 years.

Can US Imperialism be Challenged?

BUSH’S MILITARY victory in Iraq may reinforce the idea that it is impossible to stand up to the might of US imperialism, that it is unstoppable, and can impose its will around the globe without challenge.

Bush, Blair and their ilk are now sitting on the laurels of victory from the overthrow of two hated dictatorships, and crowing that all must bow before their will and their political and economic vision.

Yet, the massive global anti-war movement, which mobilised tens of millions, played an important role in limiting the hand of imperialism in this war.

This movement forced the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Russia and others to opt out of direct military involvement in the war on Iraq contributed to the splits in the EU and NATO and helped to open up a division between the US and major European powers. It also played a part in preventing the US and Britain from using blanket bombing on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities for fear of the political ramifications.

But it is one thing for the US to use its massive military machine to overthrow the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, and quite another for them to invade and take on a government which has mass support amongst its people.

Such an adventure could result in US imperialism becoming bogged down in a drawn out conflict that would provoke such opposition internationally and at home that it could end in its defeat. This was the result 30 years ago in Vietnam. It could also be the result if they decide to move on and invade Syria or Iran!

Is Syria Bush’s next target?

SPECULATION IS rife that Bush may decide to move on from Baghdad and point his troops in the direction of Damascus.

According to the Guardian, 15 April, Bush has, for the time being, vetoed plans to go to war against Syria. Yet in the last few weeks Donald Rumsfeld ordered contingency plans for a war on Syria to be reviewed following the fall of Baghdad! William Luti, head of the Pentagon’s office of special plans, put together “a briefing paper on the case for war against Syria, outlining its role in supplying weapons to Saddam Hussein, its links with Middle East terrorist groups and its allegedly advanced chemical weapons programme ... Luti was instrumental in persuading the White House to go to war in Iraq”. (Guardian, 15 April 2003)

For the time being at least, Washington and London may be intent on merely threatening and intimidating Syria into “mending its ways”. Bush faces an election in a year’s time and also the huge task of “nation building” in Afghanistan and Iraq. His administration may have decided to focus on the US’s economic difficulties in preparation for the 2004 election.

If Syria doesn’t accede to US demands, then a war post elections may be on the cards. A US war against Syria would not be a “cake walk” like in Iraq or Afghanistan. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has a formidable army which has not been worn down by 12 years of attrition by the US as was the Iraqi army and it is almost a certainty that the Syrian people would take on the US invaders and would be backed by Arabs across the Middle East and most especially by the Palestinians.

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