Let freedom reign; handing over
If the American's
have done one thing well in Iraq it was their clever handover of
"sovereignty" two days early, thus wrong footing planned anti-war
protests around the world, and undoubted military action by the
insurgents in Iraq itself. The embarrassing new flag was forgotten about
in Pro-consul Bremmer's haste to get an early flight home.
Handover occurs at a time
when the occupation is increasing bogged down in every direction. For
example, the charity Christian Aid has challenged that the Coalition
Provisional Authority of Paul Bremmer cannot account for $20bn (£11bn)
of oil revenues over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, thousands of ethnic
Arabs are being driven out of their homes due to "ethnic cleansing" in
Kurdish areas (according the New York Times), leading to increasing
tension. The torture at Abu Ghraib gaol looks like it was authorized at
the very top - and on 17th June the Pentagon admitted that
Donald Rumsfeld had ordered detainees to be hidden from the
International Committee of the Red Cross.
Discontent from ordinary
Iraqis will continue because the Americans have still not managed to
restore basic services such as electricity, water, health care and
sewerage. Unemployment still stands at up to 45%. In this context the
current high level of military resistance shows no sign of being
contained or defeated.
So what has
been handed over?
legally there is a dispute over whether the whole thing is a sham. For
example Under the Geneva Conventions, no laws issued by a military
occupation are binding on an occupied country after the occupation
ends. But Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
asserted at the Senate Armed Services Committee that Mr. Bremer's order
giving immunity from prosecution to US soldiers in Iraq could not be
repealed by the new government that took office on June 28th. This means
that the USA has not handed over full sovereignty as recognized in
The new Iraqi prime
minister, Iyad Allawi, was announced by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, to
consternation and surprise by many commentators in the Middle East , who
were taking Brahimi at his word that he would find an honest and
competent technocrat to oversee early elections. Although certainly
Allawi was not the most favoured candidate by the US Department of
Defence who wanted their man, Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National
Allawi is as far from an
unambitious administrator as it is possible to be. He was a former
Ba'athist of senior rank until around the mid-1970s, who surrounds
himself almost entirely with former Ba'athist and security personnel.
Along with others, he formed the Iraqi National Accord in 1990 which was
involved in failed CIA sponsored coup attempts and which was accused of
organising bomb attacks on civilian targets in Baghdad. Up until the
coup attempt he is believed to have had reasonable support in senior
Iraqi army circles, but these officers were infiltrated and purged, by
Saddam's secret police. Allawi admits to having been in the pay of 16
different foreign intelligence services including the CIA and MI6.
Most importantly, Allawi
has never claimed to be a democrat. His ambition has always been a
Ba'athist regime without Saddam. It is no coincidence that he has a
close relationship with the Syrian Ba'athist regime, but abandoned
their commitment to pan-Arabism in favour of a power hungry pragmatism
that fits hand in glove with US State Department ambitions.
In short, Allawi is a new
What his ascension to power
represents was well expressed by the British based academic Kemil Mahdi,
in an article in Al Ahram (Egypt): "Chalabi represented the Afghan
model of a loose central administration and regional warlords with
unencumbered commercial and financial interests masquerading as a
liberal democracy. It represents an extremist Zionist dream and its
reversal can only be welcome. The new government of Iyad Allawi presages
a shift, however, towards attempting to recreate the prevalent Arab
model of a centralised repressive government that is subservient to the
United States and that is preoccupied with security. The political
system will be pluralist only in form, and there are indications already
that the coming elections will not be an open contest but that
candidates have to be vetted in an opaque process. This would probably
be achieved by the return of many Ba'athists to leading administrative,
military and security positions, and by the increased expenditure on
security that is one of the stated priorities of Allawi's
administration. It is likely that a few show trials will be conducted to
attempt to close the book on 35 years of brutality and corruption, and
to focus attention away from the reality of continuing occupation. "
Already there is
considerable concern in the Middle East that the show trial of Saddam
will be used to sanctify the occupation.. Lebanon's Daily Star
has warned that "any
temptation to exact vengeance must be resisted. Justice must be done and
must be seen to be done ... Nothing can contribute to the healing of our
societies in this troubled region as much as justice."
that rather than Saddam, "those
who should be brought to justice are the people who mobilised the army
from the USA and invaded the Gulf and occupied Iraq".
laments that "Saddam's
trial and punishment will not bring back to life all the innocent
So what will happen next?
personally aspire to be a new strong man. But he depends entirely on the
US occupation forces for his authority. It remains to be seen whether
the new government will enjoy a veto, or any influence at all, over
American military operations. On the other hand the Americans are
desperate for the new government to succeed.
Allawi's lack of any base of support in
the country is deeply worrying for the Americans. For example, famous
collaborator governments in the past such as Quisling's Norway or
Petain's Vichy republic had considerable native support, including in
the armed forces and capitalist classes. Allawi represents nothing.
Certainly Paul Bremmer has been replaced
by John "dirty war" Negraponte, who will keep a lower profile, and the
Americans will try to have an Iraqi face at each press conference, but
the evolution and survival of the new government will depend on the
progress of the war.
This is where analysis becomes complex.
Comparisons with Vietnam are unhelpful.
Much of the fighting there was between the American forces against North
Vietnam's regular army, who in turn were supplied by Russia. What is
more both sides had a clearly defined idea of what victory would mean.
The Vietnamese were fighting for an independent, economically autarchic
state, that could align itself with the Soviet bloc countries, and would
involve land reform in the south.
Even the Algerian war offers a poor model
because the national liberation movement again had a clearly defined
model of victory, post colonial "socialism". The French had a very
sizeable, loyalist and colonist minority supporting them and hoped for
an Ulster solution.
In Iraq today it is hard to construct any
foreseeable military or political outcome that would represent a victory
for either side. The military defeat and complete withdrawal of American
troops would probably lead to economic blockade of Iraq, warlordism, and
spiralling antagonism between Washington and Tehran if Iranian troops
intervened. What is more the capability of inflicting such a defeat
unaided on the Americans is highly unlikely, the casualty attrition of
American troops is still well within acceptable limits, comparable to
the rate of accidental deaths for US forces outside combat countries
(road accidents in Germany, etc). Indeed the Pentagon are probably
quietly satisfied that their armed forces (which have little
international credibility for resilience) are being combat hardened.
What is more the Iraqi military
insurgency has no published or proclaimed political objective that the
Iraqi people can endorse or participate in. Nor has it any obvious
foreign sponsors which will become an important issue if the war
continues through months and years.
That is not to say that the insurgency
lacks broad popularity in Iraq, nor that we should be reluctant to
support the defeat and withdrawal of the occupation forces. However, for
the resistance to prevail it must have defined political aims - people
need to know what they are fighting for, and hatred of the Americans
will only take them so far. A very close analogy is the Jacje conference
in Bosnia on 1943 where the partisan forces fighting the fascist
occupation gathered to discuss what a post-war Yugoslavia would look
like. The proclamation of an end to ethnic discrimination and
redistribution of the land strengthened the military struggle by giving
it a firm foundation of support in the countryside. It is fervently to
be hoped that the Iraqi opposition will develop clear political goals,
particularly if these express the historical aims of the whole Arab
nations, "Arab oil for the Arab peoples", democracy, and the end of all
foreign domination which in turn requires the union of the artificially
divided Arab countries and an end to Zionism.
On the other side, the American ruling
class was clearly divided last year about the wisdom of a war on Iraq.
In contrast the Vietnam war was originally supported by the whole
spectrum of bourgeois political opinion, and by the whole "military,
industrial complex". If a formula could be found to exit Iraq tomorrow
and still save face there would be many takers in Washington. But Bush
has dug them into a hole, by withdrawing military bases from Saudi
Arabia, and supporting Israeli destabilisation of relationships with
pro-Western Arab countries, victory in Iraq has become even more
important. They will hope that through attrition of the resistance and a
process of handing more power and responsibility to local allies
(especially the fighting) they will eventually prevail. Perhaps they
A complicating factor is that true
American aphorism, "Only Nixon could go to China". Only Nixon, an
uncompromising, prosecutor at the McCarthy show-trials, and an
anti-communist of impeccable credentials could sign a friendship treaty
with "communist" China. Only De Gaulle, whose patriotism could not be
questioned, could withdraw France from Algeria. Neither Bush not Kerry
would be politically enfranchised in this way to sponsor American
withdrawal from Iraq.
So what does this all mean? Firstly that
history is unlikely to neatly repeat itself. The war could yet be long
and complicated, and American victory is a possibility. Secondly that
the Iraqi insurgency, as it is presently constituted, is probably
incapable of victory, (Hezbollah's victory over the Israelis in Lebanon
is a possible precedent, but the stakes are much higher for the
The imperialists can be defeated. This
requires taking up the slogans for a comprehensive solution to all the
problems of the Middle East caused by colonialism and the intertwined
politics of oil and Zionism. The biggest weapon to use against the
imperialist aggressors is for the oil producing nations to turn off the
taps, and that requires regime change not in London or Washington, but
in Riyadh, Kuwait and Bahrain. So the insurgents must adopt aims that
can spread the war to the very borders of Israel. They must adopt aims
that are openly debated within Iraq itself, and the Iraqi and Arab
labour movement must assert its own economic and democratic demands.
Political opposition to the war at home
is already shaping the strategy and tactics of the occupiers. British
troops have not reinforced American troops further north. In part due to
opposition from within the British military itself, but mainly because
British public opinion would not accept the level of casualties being
entertained by the Americans. The Americans are rotating their troops
less frequently than modern thinking dictates leading to long tours -
this is to reduce homecomings and goodbyes, and the relatively high
desertion rate. Troops with post traumatic stress are being returned to
combat against the advice of their doctors. Generally moral is low.
In the west, the anti-war movement must
be taken out of mothballs, and reoriented for the idea that this could
be a long haul. We must build an enduring campaign that demands the
British and American troops are withdrawn from Iraq, and continues to
challenge the lies that legitimise the occupation. We must support the
resistance, but be realistic that unless they take up social issues in
Iraq they are unlikely to prevail. Furthermore we must ourselves be
realistic that we are no longer marching with 2 millions, but with tens
of thousands. That means we need to rethink our tactics and perhaps
reopen debates about civil disobedience and direct action. That is the
task that confronts us.