The Socialist Unity Network

Let freedom reign; handing over sovereignty

Andy Newman

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?

Even 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 Bremer's order giving immunity from prosecution to US soldiers in Iraq could not be repealed by the new government that took office on June 28th.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 international law.

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 Congress.

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 Saddam Hussein.
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." Algeria's El Khabar argues 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". Iran's Arabic-language Al-Vefagh laments that "Saddam's trial and punishment will not bring back to life all the innocent victims".

So what will happen next?

Allawi may 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 might.

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 Americans.)

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.



June 2004

A PDF fact sheet on the Iraq handover can be found here
Iraq Occupation focus link


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