- Created: Saturday, 24 March 2018 19:36
- Written by Toby Harbertson
‘Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, [a Pentagon official] said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.’
– Former Supreme NATO Allied Commander General Wesley Clark, Winning Modern Wars (2003)
On 20 March 2003, 45,000 British troops, alongside 248,000 troops from the US, and soldiers from around 40 other countries launched a devastating invasion of Iraq which was to go on to kill up to 1 million Iraqi people (Physicians for Social Responsibility, March 2015). Fifteen years on the entire region has become engulfed in war, driven by the murderous actions and interests of imperialism. These fifteen years of unbroken imperialist-waged and sponsored war are an expression of the deepening crisis of the imperialist system. The major imperialist powers are compelled to assert their domination over the region and its strategic resources (60% of known oil reserves and 41% of natural gas reserves) and location. The resulting chaos has led the US, Britain, and their allies, to become more and more drawn into deeply destructive wars with unmanageable consequences such as the ‘migration crisis’ and the rise of Islamic State (IS) jihadists. The imperialist strategy has met continual and increasing resistance, but US and British imperialism have made their long-term military commitment to the region clear. Of the seven targets listed in the quotation above, none has been untouched by imperialist subversion, with three of them devastated by imperialism since 2003.
Britain and the US had been consistently bombing Iraq since the 1991 First Gulf War. Genocidal sanctions were imposed on the country by the UN Security Council in 1990 - UN figures suggest that Iraqi fatalities of the period 1990-2003 amount to 1.7 million, including at least 500,000 children. The devastating ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing campaign, ground invasion, military occupation, and imperialist-led ‘nation building’ in Iraq from 2003 onwards left the country shattered and divided. At least 4 million Iraqis were made refugees by the war, and 5 million children were left orphaned. Despite US President George Bush declaring ‘Mission Accomplished’ in May 2003, determined Iraqi resistance to the US and British occupation developed, resulting in the deaths of 4,497 coalition soldiers. The US-led massacre in the city of Fallujah in 2004 used white phosphorous as well as depleted uranium weaponry which has led to a rate of genetic mutation and cancer which is ‘worse than Hiroshima’ (Independent, 23 July 2010).
When the majority of US and British troops were withdrawn, the objectives of the imperialists had not been achieved. A permanent US and British military presence has remained in Iraq ever since 2003, and the country has suffered 15 years of unbroken war. Sectarian and ethnic division and fighting has been fuelled and actively fostered by the imperialist forces. A new military operation was launched in 2014 in order to fight the expansion of IS which grew out of the chaos left in the wake of the 2003 war, and owes much of its existence to imperialist intervention and strategy. Bombing continues to this day. Iraq is currently tenth on the Fragile States Index, and 161st on the Global Peace Index (with only Afghanistan and Syria below it). Labour imperialism, along with its allies, has devastated the heart of the Middle East.
Almost exactly 8 years after Iraq, on 19 March 2011, the NATO bombing of Libya began. British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy convinced the US government of Barack Obama to join them in launching an assault on the country in order to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. British MPs voted to support airstrikes 557 to 15, with only 9 Labour MPs voting against. Of those who voted for the assault, 11 are members of Jeremy Corbyn’s current Shadow Cabinet – including Labour ‘left’ veteran Diane Abbott, and Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith. Libya has been sent back in time by the bombing, going from being the country with the highest Human Development Index score in Africa, to a country with two governments competing for authority, warlords fighting over territory, and a major staging post for African migrants fleeing to Europe. 55% of the population have fled their country (Granma, 15 January 2018). Slave markets selling black Africans in Libya have recently been exposed. 557 British MPs have blood on their hands.
Syria has been at war since 15 March 2011, when anti-government demonstrations were escalated into violent clashes with the military by groups of armed men. The removal of President Bashar Assad has been repeatedly announced as a strategic priority by the British, French and US governments. The long-term support provided by Britain and the US for anti-government groups was revealed by Wikileaks. British, US and French special forces have remained present on the ground since 2011, and have played a role training and directing support for ‘rebel’ groups. The Gulf allies of the NATO imperialists, notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, have freely supported and armed their chosen groups to overthrow the government, many of these extreme reactionary jihadist groups such as IS and Jabhat Al Nusra.
The US and allied forces began bombing Syrian territory in 2014 in an intervention supposedly aimed at IS. Britain joined this mission in December 2015. Both British and US militaries continue to operate widely across eastern Syria. The Syrian government and military has shocked the imperialists by its tenacious resistance, with almost all the major populated areas back under government control seven years after the war began. However, this still leaves huge expanses of territory outside of its control. 470,000 are estimated to have died. The continuing war has expanded to global significance, with heavy involvement from Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on the side of the government, significant Turkish forces occupying majority Kurdish areas in north-west Syria, and consistent Israeli involvement. Over three days in February 2018, four intervening militaries lost aircraft in the war in Syria: Israel, Iran, Russia and Turkey. On 17 January 2018, then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the US will maintain an open-ended presence in Syria in order to ensure that Assad is removed, to fight IS, and to prevent the expansion of Iranian influence.
The Saudi-led bombing of Yemen began three years ago on 26 March 2015, following four years of developing conflict and crisis emerging out of protests in the 2011 Arab Spring. It has created, with imperialist support, what the UN currently calls ‘the world’s worst humanitarian disaster’. This devastating assault on the region’s poorest nation has killed at least 10,000 people with thousands more dying of starvation, cholera and other diseases caused by the bombardment and blockade. The cholera epidemic in the country is the world’s worst ever recorded outbreak. One million people have been infected so far – mainly children. Despite this, the war continues to have the full support of British and US imperialism. Arms sales, military support, and diplomatic invitations continue to flow to Saudi Arabia, one of British and US imperialism’s primary partners in the war to reshape the Middle East and fight the rising influence of Iran. British arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the war on Yemen began currently stand at more than £4.6bn. These sales sustain jobs and factories in some parts of Britain, at the expense of endless lives in Yemen. Campaign Against the Arms Trade has revealed that around 250 British MOD civil servants and military personnel work to support these contracts - funded by Saudi Arabia.
The war on Afghanistan preceded the Iraq invasion by two years, and was the first intervention sponsored by the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric. It has since become the longest war in US history. Britain launched the war alongside the US, and British troops remained engaged until 2015. British soldiers remain in Afghanistan in ‘non-combat’ roles. Up to 170,000 civilians were killed in the war. The roots of the devastation of Afghanistan lie in the imperialist-supported destabilisation of the socialist government which came to power in 1979. Britain participated in an operation to support jihadist Mujahideen fighters, plunging Afghanistan into decades of war. $6bn of support was provided to the Mujahideen by the US and Saudi Arabia. Britain provided 600 Blowpipe surface-to-air missiles. Ex-SAS soldiers were used to train fighters, including some at camps in Scotland. Osama Bin Laden was among those who came to prominence in the anti-socialist forces. From 1984 to 2014 the world’s largest refugee population was Afghan. Afghanistan has among the highest rates of depression, disability, and infant and maternal mortality in the world. The US has bombed Afghanistan continually since 2001, and drone strikes continue to terrorise whole regions of the country. US drone strikes also continue to terrorise areas of Somalia and Pakistan.
The crisis of imperialism has driven the US, Britain, and their allies to lay waste to the Middle East and beyond in their pursuit of dominance and profits. These states and their governments – whether Conservative or Labour, Republican or Democrat, or any other faction of the ruling class – are responsible for war crimes on an unimaginable scale. Through their 15 years of constant war, resistance has been building to their supremacy. Russia and China began to prevent obstacles to the NATO imperialists over the Libya and Syria wars. From the 2003 Iraq invasion onwards the increasing power of Iran in the region has placed a block in the way of NATO’s objectives in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Britain and the US have sustained their support for Turkey and Israel in their repression of the Kurdish and Palestinian peoples. But the Palestinian and Kurdish people have continued to resist domination and fight for self-determination. The continuing expansion of war in the Middle East, against a backdrop of capitalist crisis and growing inter-imperialist and inter-capitalist rivalries, threatens a war on a scale not seen since 1945. Only through resistance to imperialism – both on the ground in the region, and in the imperialist heartlands – can peace be brought to the Middle East and North Africa and further war averted. As we said in FRFI 171 (February/March 2003): ‘Regime change begins at home.’