Iraq: democracy at gunpoint - Target Syria

Elections in Palestine, elections in Iraq, the ‘cedar revolution’ in Lebanon, local elections in Saudi Arabia and the promise of a contested presidential election in Egypt. Democracy is coming to the Middle East, or so the story goes. Behind the Palestinian election stands the Zionist military machine, crushing the Intifada and reducing the Palestinians to beggary. The road to the vote in Iraq passed through the rubble and uncounted corpses of Fallujah. In the name of democracy imperialism is setting the Middle East on fire. It is not freedom Bush and Blair bring – it is war. Trevor Rayne reports.

Prime Minister Blair declared Iraq’s 30 January election ‘magnificent’. Television and newspaper reports sought to use the election to justify and legitimise the war. The Labour Party hoped these would prove sufficient to retrieve support lost among Labour voters who opposed the war. Genuine demands for democracy among the Iraqi people are being cynically used to prolong the occupation of their country. Immediately after the election the US Pentagon announced it would keep 120,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2007. These elections were not about sovereignty.

The purposes of the elections, called and arranged by the occupying powers, were to extend the occupation and to create a reliable political entity willing to implement imperialist rule over Iraq. They were used to divide and rule the country by drawing as many forces as possible to the new National Assembly while isolating the resistance, thereby allowing the occupying armies to focus on the Sunni population.

In Iraq, as in Afghanistan, the US and other imperialist armies are incapable of waging a successful prolonged war of occupation without locally recruited military allies to fight for them. The new National Assembly is intended to provide that mercenary force.

Eight and a half million people voted in Iraq, approximately 57% of the electorate. In the mainly Sunni provinces few people voted: 2% in Anbar, 17% in Ninevah and 29% in Salahadin. Many polling stations did not open. An opinion poll in December showed 53% of five million Sunnis supported armed resistance. On 30 January an RAF Hercules C-130 cargo plane was brought down, probably by a missile, with ten British servicemen killed, the biggest single loss of British troops since the war began.

The elections have provided imperialism with gains. The armed resistance of the Shias ended, with supporters of Muqtada al Sadr joining the National Assembly. The leadership of the main parties benefiting from the elections, Shia and Kurdish, served in the previous Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) or its successor, the Interim Government and so might be considered reliable accomplices of imperialism. The main Shia groups, the United Iraqi Alliance (51% of the seats) backed by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and Interim Government Prime Minister Allawi’s Iraqi List (14.5% of the seats) both initially included a timetable for foreign troops withdrawal in their manifestos. The Alliance withdrew its manifesto just before the election, then re-issued it without the call for withdrawal. Allawi’s List called for a ‘conditions-based withdrawal’. The US complained so Allawi said it was too early to talk about withdrawal. The CPA and the Interim Government stood on a foundation of occupying armies, and so stands their National Assembly successor.

Wider sections of the Iraqi ruling class have been mobilised to participate in the US- and British-sponsored organisations and political process, but how reliable are they? Apart from the Kurds, the great majority of Iraqi people want the occupation forces out of their country. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war have risen to over 100,000. They are estimates because the occupation powers deliberately refuse to record them. Each of those deaths is an indictment of the war. No figures means no evidence with which to prosecute the crime. On a recent visit to Iraq The Independent’s Robert Fisk used Baghdad mortuary records to show that in this city alone 560 people are being killed each month.

It is thought that 6,000 civilians were killed in the US and British assault on Fallujah. There are reports that the US used napalm and poison gas. There are still over 200,000 refugees from Fallujah; they were not registered to vote nor given voting cards. Fallujah is symbolic of the terror and destruction that imperialism has brought to Iraq. The released Italian journalist Guiliana Sgrena believes the US forces deliberately ambushed her on 2 March. As the car she was in approached Baghdad airport its occupants were sprayed without warning by 300-400 bullets. This is what US soldiers do in Iraq: shoot first, ask questions later. With no official body count, all estimates state that the occupation armies have killed far more people than the resistance.

Living conditions have deteriorated across Iraq. Electricity and water supplies are intermittent. Fuel shortages are common. Unemployment is 60% and higher in many parts of Iraq. The ruling factions in the national assembly have to respond to the demands of the people or become isolated and hence useless to imperialism. The imperialists’ show of democracy may well encourage demands for the real thing.

The dominant Shia parties have a religious affinity with Iran. Iran may be able to use them to exert influence over Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This would be at the expense of imperialist power in the region. Iran is therefore a beneficiary of the Iraqi election. It has a new weapon with which to resist imperialism. The occupying powers will try to remove that weapon by breaking the leaders away from their allegiances to Iran.

The election and the National Assembly are intended to increase the legitimacy and effectiveness of the US- and British-recruited Iraqi armed forces. The Pentagon claims there are 142,472 trained and equipped Iraqi security personnel. This is nonsense, as only a small fraction of these are capable of fighting the resistance that daily kills new recruits. Auxiliary units are being formed to fight alongside the occupation armies and the Iraqi security forces. Former generals, sheikhs and bourgeois families lead these potential death squads. However, the only substantial, reliable fighting ally that the occupation forces have with them is the Kurdish militia.

The Kurdish Alliance won 27% of the National Assembly seats and is proving critical in establishing the Assembly and filling key posts. It was six weeks after the election before the Assembly met and the main positions were still not agreed. Elements within the main United Iraqi Alliance are threatening to leave it. There are disputes over Iranian influence, the role of Islamic law and Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds demand that they retain autonomy within Iraq and the resettlement of Kirkuk with displaced Kurdish families, in exchange for supporting a new governing coalition in the assembly. Kirkuk is in an oil rich region. The US and British governments can expect to play the role of broker: sharing out Iraqi oil revenues between multinational corporations and the competing claims of the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish ruling classes. These claims are not debated over legal titles, they are argued by physical force on the ground. These are the fault-lines along which Iraq could fragment.

Whenever it is formed the new Iraqi government must negotiate with the resistance and try to bring all those it can onto its side. Time magazine reports that Pentagon officials have met with resistance leaders from the former Ba’athist regime. The new government must attempt to repair the economic and social damage done to Iraq and improve people’s living conditions and it must negotiate a timetable for withdrawal of the occupation armies. These three are inter-connected; there are no prospects for social and economic improvement while the occupation forces battle the resistance. The primary requirement for any improvement in the Iraqi people’s conditions is the ending of the occupation. End all the legislation privatising state assets and preparing the plunder of Iraq’s oil. End the 15% flat tax rate and end the entire system of bribery and corruption accompanying the scandalous distribution of contracts supposedly for rebuilding Iraq but actually for looting it.

Violence of the oppressor and the oppressed
Communists in Britain have a responsibility to both the Iraqi and the British working classes. In The right of nations to self-determination Lenin said, ‘The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content that we unconditionally support. At the same time we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness; we fight against the tendency of the Polish bourgeoisie to oppress the Jews, etc.’* In so far as the removal of the occupation forces is a pre-condition for the advance of the Iraqi people, we unconditionally support the right of the resistance to fight the occupation forces and their servants. However, where sections of the resistance seek to promote privileged class interests at the expense of the oppressed Iraqi people we oppose it. We cannot support the attempt to impose a medieval theocracy on Iraqi men and women. Bombings of mosques, hospitals and bakeries, all targets hit in February, are sectarian and tend to divide the Iraqi masses, immobilising rather than uniting them against imperialism.

At the same time, we say that the most hideous aspects of the resistance are ultimately the responsibility of the invaders. Writing after the 1857 Indian Revolt, Marx opposed the racist representations of Indian violence in the British press. He drew a sharp distinction between the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressor, dialectically linking the two.

‘Torture formed an organic institution in (Britain’s) financial policy. There is something in human history like retribution; and it is a rule of historical retribution that its instrument be forged not only by the offended but by the offender himself.’ ‘In view of such facts [on British torture], dispassionate and thoughtful men may perhaps be led to ask whether a people are not justified in attempting to expel the foreign conquerors who have so abused their subjects. And if the English could do these things in cold blood, is it surprising that the insurgent Hindus should be guilty, in the fury of revolt and conflict, of the crimes and cruelties alleged against them’. (Investigation of Tortures in India)

Shock and Awe, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Fallujah and decades of brutal imperialist oppression are returned to the offender.

The bourgeois media focus on the sectarian attacks and do not cover the resistance’s engagement with the occupation forces. On 7 September 2004 the number of US soldiers reported killed in action in Iraq reached 1,000. By 3 March 2005 the total was 1,500. This is an average of over 80 US soldiers killed each month since September 2004. Black youth recruitment into the US Army is down by 41% since 2000. Amongst US black youth unemployment is over 10%, double the rate for white youths. Army pay is attractive to black youths, in some years since the draft ended in 1973, they constituted close to 30% of volunteers. They now form 13.9% of new recruits. The Pentagon has announced that death benefits for soldiers killed in combat zones are to be doubled, giving families $500,000 for their sacrifice.

Unaffordable war

This war is costing the US government $1 billion a week, (the British Labour government is spending £408.3 million each month on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and against ‘terrorism’). In 2004 the US trade deficit soared to $618 billion. Net US external liabilities are about $4 trillion or 30% of the US economy. To finance its external deficit the US must attract capital inflows of nearly $2 billion a day. A handful of Asian central banks control $2.4 trillion of reserves that prop up the dollar and the US economy. In February a Bank of Korea official said they might sell dollar assets. The dollar plummeted and markets had to be reassured by talk of ‘diversifying’ holdings. The scenario was replayed in March in Japan. The US cannot afford this war. Its trade and budget deficits now imperil the financial architecture of international capitalism. However, the US ruling class is fighting for global domination through victory in the Middle East; it cannot afford to lose.

* Poland was fighting for liberation from Russia.

Target Syria

The killing of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut on 14 February was pounced on by the US, Israeli, British and French governments to escalate their pressure on the Syrian government. Hariri wanted Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. He was a billionaire capitalist with many opponents. Nevertheless, by recalling the US ambassador from Damascus the finger was quickly pointed at Syria as the culprit and the imperialists demanded that Syria withdraw its forces from Lebanon. The Syrian government denied complicity.

Syrian soldiers entered Lebanon in 1976 with the agreement of the US government. Their purpose was to crush the Palestinians who were overwhelming the reactionary Christian militias. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and occupied southern Lebanon until 2000 when Hizbollah drove the Israeli forces out. Syria, Hizbollah and Iran quickly rose in priority as targets of imperialism. On 28 March 2003 US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld accused Syria and Iran of helping the Iraqi army as it crumpled before the invasion force. Condoleezza Rice repeated the accusation and on 3 May 2003 the then Secretary of State Powell visited Damascus to reinforce the message. In October 2003 the Israeli airforce bombed what they claimed was a Palestinian training camp outside Damascus. In September 2004 Israel’s Mossad killed a Hamas commander in Damascus. Israel accused Syria of involvement in the recent bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub. Iraqi government television shows ‘confessions’ of captured resistance fighters saying they have been trained in Syria or are Syrian intelligence agents.

Two days after Hariri’s death the Iranian and Syrian governments announced they would form a ‘common front’ against imperialist threats. Israel responded by calling for the removal of Iranian Revolutionary Guards from Lebanon. They left 15 years ago. In London, the Israeli foreign minister said Iran would be able to produce nuclear weapons within six months and by 2010 they could reach ‘London, Paris and Madrid’ – echoes of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ pretext.

The US, British, French and Israeli governments call for the implementation of the 2004 UN Resolution 1559. This demands that Syria withdraw all its forces from Lebanon, the disarmament of Hizbollah and deployment of the Lebanese army along the border with Israel. Syria has said it will abide by the 1989 Taif Agreement which proposed a staged withdrawal of Syrian troops to the Bekaa Valley and then later to Syria. It contains no clauses on Hizbollah. Hizbollah draws its recruits chiefly from the Shia population of Lebanon. On 8 March over half a million Shia supporters of Hizbollah demonstrated in Beirut in support of Syria and against US and Israeli meddling in Lebanon. The demonstrators of the ‘cedar revolution’ come mainly from Lebanon’s Christian, Sunni and Druze communities. On 14 March one million of them demonstrated in Beirut to demand the withdrawal of Syrian forces, the resignation of Lebanon’s government and the truth about who killed Hariri. They appeared generally better off than the Shia demonstrators were.

Imperialist strategy is not simply concerned with removing Syrian forces from Lebanon. It is intent on destabilising the Syrian state and forcing it to renounce its alliance with Iran and Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hizbollah. Imperialism seeks to isolate each target in order to destroy it. President Bush has declared ‘freedom will prevail in Lebanon’. Lebanese people have long been used in other people’s battles. Imperialism intends that Lebanon becomes a front line in its battle with Syria and Iran.
Trevor Rayne

19 MARCH, London, 50,000-strong demonstration against war in Iraq: the RCG/FRFI with the Marxist Leninist Party of Turkey and Northern Kurdistan, ATIK, the International League of People’s Solidarity and Migrante International marched with others under the banner of the Anti-Imperialist Bloc. The Bloc held an alternative open meeting in Trafalgar Square.

FRFI 184 April / May 2005