Imperialist Rape of Iraq

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 800, 28 March 2003

MARCH 25—All of Baghdad is now Ground Zero. Streets are littered with burning skeletons of buildings; bitter smoke and stench hang in the air. More cruise missiles and 2,000-pound “smart bombs” slammed into Baghdad and other cities in a matter of hours on Friday than in the whole six weeks of bombardment in the first Gulf War. The intended effect of this “Shock and Awe” blitzkrieg, according to one of its architects, is “rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima.” The city which gave birth to modern algebra in the ninth century is being razed to the ground by rulers with the mindset of “born again” biblical primitives and the technology of 21st-century industrial capitalism.

More than 100 civilians have been killed in Basra alone, where the population has been without water or electricity for over three days, and scores more in Baghdad and other cities. As one man in Nasiriya bitterly remarked after his son was dragged away from his home by American troops, “Is this your liberation?” Stray cruise missiles have already hit Iran and Turkey. A missile attack on a bridge at the Syrian border destroyed a bus, killing five Syrians. Reporting on a hospital ward filled with civilian casualties in Baghdad, London Independent (23 March) reporter Robert Fisk headlined his article: “This Is the Reality of War. We Bomb. They Suffer.” The current number of civilian dead will pale in comparison with what will come once the siege of Baghdad begins in earnest.

The number of Iraqi troops slaughtered while defending their country may already number in the thousands. Reporting on one of the war’s first battles, the Sydney Morning Herald (22 March), citing a U.S. officer, stated that Navy aircraft “dropped 40,000 pounds of explosives and napalm,” conjuring images of American atrocities in Vietnam. While the Pentagon has issued a denial, an official at the Red Cross in Geneva noted that the U.S. never signed a 1980 United Nations agreement banning the use of napalm.

An Iraqi spokesman aptly labeled the columns of American and British troops heading toward Baghdad as “columns of colonization.” In a stirring statement to a mass antiwar rally in Hanoi on March 15, a leading Vietnamese official declared, “Once victims of aggressive wars, trade embargoes and blockades ourselves, the Vietnamese people understand the difficulties and suffering of the Iraqi people.”

The first act of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was to secure Iraq’s oil fields for the freedom of untrammeled exploitation by ExxonMobil and British Petroleum, symbolized by the planting of an American flag in the southern desert. Already, the Bush administration has been handing out contracts to its cronies in Halliburton and other American companies to “rebuild” Iraq.

The corporate media dutifully acts as public relations pimps for the Pentagon, retailing the lies of Bush’s Ministry of Disinformation and smothering what news one might get from Arab stations like Al Jazeera. The war buildup has been accompanied from the very beginning by a Big Lie campaign, from the report of Iraqi nuclear material purchases in Africa that turned out to be a forgery to claims of weapons of mass destruction by a touted Iraqi defector who was later revealed to be a “consummate liar.”

“Stock Prices Rise as War in Iraq Appears Inevitable,” announced the New York Times (18 March) after George W. Bush’s prime-time ultimatum last Monday, which catapulted the stock exchange to its best week in 20 years (only to plunge as soon as the U.S. began suffering military setbacks). “Profits rising, proletarians falling,” proclaimed Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish Jew who led the revolutionary wing of the German workers movement, amid the slaughter of World War I. Speaking of an imperialist system that was to claim over 20 million lives in four years, she wrote in her “Junius Pamphlet” (1916): “Shamed, dishonored, wading in blood and dripping with filth—thus stands bourgeois society. And so it is. Not as we usually see it, pretty and chaste, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, ethics and culture. It shows itself in its true, naked form—as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as a pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity.”

This is the face of imperialism, of the irrational, anarchic, profit-driven capitalist system made even more irrational in its epoch of decay. Mass slaughter is the concentrated expression and ultimate logic of the “normal” brutal workings of the capitalist system, which daily condemns countless numbers around the world to death by malnutrition, lack of medical care and industrial murder.

If there is to be a choice for coming generations of working-class and minority youth other than one of grinding exploitation, joblessness, mass imprisonment or military servitude, if the impoverished masses of the world are to have a future other than starvation and slaughter, this whole system must be torn up by its roots through a socialist revolution and replaced by a rational, planned economy internationally.

This is what must be grasped by the workers and youth who have poured out into the streets from San Francisco and New York to Paris, Rome and Cairo in anger and defiance against the American imperialist beast. There can be no unity of the exploiters and exploited in the struggle against imperialism and war. As the first bombs fall, the pacifism of the liberal capitalist politicians and their social-democratic and trade-union lieutenants reveals itself, as always, to be nothing more than window-dressing for national chauvinism. Bourgeois pacifism serves not to restrain the warmakers but to pacify the working masses.

The United Nations, having done its best to disarm Iraq and starve its people into submission, now waits to volunteer its “humanitarian” services in a post-Saddam Iraq. Capitalist governments in Europe and the Near East that sanctimoniously intone “no to war” turn their police batons and water cannon against antiwar protesters. Congress votes with near-unanimity to give its full backing to the Commander in Chief of this rapacious bloodbath. Al Sharpton and other “antiwar” Democrats embraced by self-proclaimed Marxists like the Workers World Party (WWP) and its International ANSWER coalition scramble to pledge their oath of allegiance to U.S. imperialism, affirming their “respect” and “support” for “our troops,” the army of colonial slaughter and occupation.

Antiwar Protests Sweep the World

Wielding an arsenal of high-tech holocaust, the leaders of American capitalism arrogantly boast of their military successes against a country whose total national income is but a tiny fraction of what the U.S. spends every year on arms. Yet the fact that this small country, bled white by 12 years of United Nations sanctions and saddled with a bloody, U.S.-installed regime, has succeeded in mounting any military resistance to the American juggernaut is a measure of the Iraqis’ hatred for the colonial invaders. It is now widely reported that thousands of Iraqis living in Jordan and elsewhere are returning to “fight against the Americans.”

The U.S. hoped for a quick seizure of Basra, a lightly guarded city right near the Kuwaiti border with a predominantly anti-regime Shi’ite population, as a photo-op of American “liberation.” It has still not fallen. There has been heavy fighting outside a number of towns, and one U.S. officer was killed by an American GI who threw a couple of grenades into a command tent at a base in Kuwait. While far fewer Iraqi soldiers have surrendered thus far than the 9,000 “reported” by the media days ago, the Iraqis have managed to capture and display a number of American POWs, provoking Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld to rant about violations of the Geneva Convention. This is imperialist hypocrisy of the highest degree: for more than three days, American newspapers and TV gloatingly ran pictures of bound and blindfolded Iraqi POWs. As for the Geneva Convention, this is rich coming from a government that is obliterating entire city neighborhoods, that kidnapped hundreds of Afghans and others and spirited them off to a concentration camp in Guantánamo, that has arbitrarily imprisoned over a thousand immigrants and even its own citizens without charges, labeling them “enemy combatants.”

We welcome every blow struck against the imperialist invasion forces as a blow in the interests of working people and the oppressed around the world. But as one Iraqi colonel who surrendered said, “I’ve got a rifle from World War II. What can I do against American airplanes?” As we have stressed from the outset of the drive to war, the chief means of defending Iraq lies in class struggle against the imperialist rulers.

Italy has seen continuous strikes since the bombing started. While the country’s main trade-union federation called for a two-hour strike on Thursday afternoon, workers spontaneously poured out from factories, offices and schools to join the protest demonstrations, effectively extending the strike in many regions. Workers chanted, “The only general we like is general strike.” In Greece, there was a four-hour protest strike on Friday, while some 150,000 marched on the U.S. embassy in Athens and the U.S. base in Soudas on Crete was blockaded. Those engaged in labor actions against the war must broaden their struggle into one against capitalism itself.

While largely symbolic, an ILA longshore union local in New Brunswick, Canada passed a resolution promising to “hot-cargo” military goods destined for the Persian Gulf. A 20 March protest statement by the COSATU trade-union federation in South Africa denounced the “invasion and mass murder of the defenceless people of Iraq” and noted, “We are now tasting the full consequence of unipolar power following the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Labor actions against the war must be intensified and extended internationally, including and especially in the United States.

But this requires a sharp struggle against the social-democratic and reformist misleaders of the labor movement. In Italy, the reformist Rifondazione Comunista, which has organized many of the antiwar protests, seizes this moment to declare its support for a new popular-front Olive Tree coalition with the Party of the Democratic Left, whose government in 1999 prosecuted the U.S.-led NATO war against Serbia on behalf of Italian imperialism. In Australia, the promised shutdown of construction sites in Sydney by the building workers bureaucrats turned into a handful of spontaneous actions, while Green “antiwar” leader Bob Brown denounced protesters for burning an American flag and declared that “we” should now hope that Saddam Hussein is removed quickly.

In their turn, the AFL-CIO labor officialdom under John Sweeney, having mildly criticized Bush for circumventing the UN, now proclaims it is “unequivocal in our support of our country and America’s men and women on the front lines” and urges the labor-hating racist in the White House “to redouble the administration’s commitment to bolstering our security against terrorist attacks here at home.” These labor lieutenants of American imperialism not only endorse the bloodbath of Iraqis but demand that Bush and Ashcroft—who have already unleashed up to 5,000 FBI agents to hunt down Iraqi nationals and others—“redouble” the roundups of immigrants, shredding of civil liberties, surveillance of left and labor activists and crackdown on union struggle which are carried out under the rubric of the “war on terror.”

The interests of the international working class, especially in the U.S., are the exact opposite of those promoted by Sweeney & Co. The proletariat must stand firmly in defense of Iraq against the U.S./British attack.

In the countries dominating the imperialist invasion force, the U.S. and British sections of the ICL issued immediate statements in defense of Iraq against this colonial war. There and in other countries our contingents stood out for our aggressive championing of immigrant rights and our defense of the Palestinians against Zionist terror. In Rouen, France, a group of Kurdish workers joined our contingent in agreement with our call for defense of Iraq. In Toronto, a contingent of the Trotskyist League punctured the prevailing “left” unity behind the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) with chants of “Who’s next after Iraq? Defend North Korea against imperialist attack!” and a sign reading “NDP Says $ Billions for Canadian Army—We Say Not a Person, Not a Penny for the Imperialist Military!” In San Francisco, our contingent at the March 22 protest chanted: “Imperialist war, we say no, the whole damned system’s got to go!”

Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party!

A new generation of youth is today having its eyes opened to the savagery of imperialist capitalism. Seeking to appeal to such sentiments, Workers World (20 March) declaims on its editorial page: “If there were a dictatorship of the proletariat in the U.S. today, instead of a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, this war would never happen.” Perish the thought that Larry Holmes or any other Workers World Party spokesman would utter such a statement while sharing an ANSWER platform with the Democratic Party representatives of that dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Because in the real world, WWP’s purpose is precisely to hoodwink young activists into thinking that this war could be stopped if only the movement becomes “broad” enough so that a sufficient number of Democratic politicians find it expedient to bleat “No to Bush’s war.” Only weeks earlier, Workers World (27 February) enthused that the huge February 15 protests had dealt a “body blow” to the Bush administration’s “strategy for world domination.” Try telling that to the people of Baghdad.

Many antiwar youth are coming to see that even the most mammoth peace marches, while expressing opposition to American imperialism, will not deter the capitalist government from waging war. While the mainstream of the antiwar movement embraces calls like “Peace is patriotic,” many youth understand that this is a colonial war and that Iraq has every right to defend itself. At the March 22 protests, many youth took up our chant “Defend Iraq against U.S. attack!” and welcomed our slogans against the Democrats. But the self-styled communists of the Progressive Labor Party steadfastly refuse to take a side in defense of Iraq even as U.S. imperialism invades the country!

In the days since the bombing began, thousands of protesters in cities across the U.S. have courageously defied the cops and faced arrest in civil disobedience actions against the war. But no amount of militant direct actions can put a dent in the U.S. war machine, as was demonstrated at the time of the Vietnam War. As we wrote in “From Protest to Power,” a major 1967 statement that was distributed in the hundreds of thousands: “Personal sacrifice can never substitute for a mass movement, and it is necessary to understand this in developing a perspective for the anti-war movement.” It is necessary to go from a perspective of endless protests to a program for proletarian power aimed at sweeping away the imperialist system as a whole.

That means tapping the fundamental discontents and conflicts in American capitalist society—the anger of the oppressed black masses; the glaring disparity in wealth between the many at the bottom and the few at the top; the fear of joblessness, homelessness, loss of health insurance and pensions that plagues tens of millions of American workers. To do so requires a struggle to break workers and minorities from the stranglehold of Democratic Party “lesser evil” politics, which is reinforced by the labor bureaucrats and the petty-bourgeois black preachers and politicians. And for radical youth looking for a program of class war against this entire system of racist oppression and imperialist war, that means breaking as well with the class-collaborationist unity-mongering of the reformist left.

The black Democratic mouthpieces and labor lieutenants of the bourgeoisie embrace the armed forces of American imperialism as “our troops.” But the capitalist rulers spit on the black, Latino and working-class ranks of the military, who are just so much expendable cannon fodder to kill and be killed in the interests of General Motors, General Electric and ExxonMobil. The father of a black Marine killed in a helicopter crash in Kuwait held up a photo of his son to the TV cameras and declared bitterly, “George Bush, take a good look at this man, ’cause you took my only son away from me.”

Support for the war among blacks runs some 30 percent lower than among whites. “The reasons are obvious,” writes black columnist Derrick Z. Jackson in the Chicago Tribune (3 March). “African-Americans are 12 percent of the general population but make up 21 percent of military personnel and 30 percent of Army enlistees.” And, he might have added, some 50 percent of the overall prison population.

Key to labor struggle against imperialist militarism is breaking the class-collaborationist “national unity” pushed by the bourgeoisie and the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. Working-class struggle can and indeed must change the reactionary political climate. To reverse the one-sided war against labor and the oppressed, to oppose the U.S. rulers’ wars of depredation and to defend civil liberties demands the independent class mobilization of working people on behalf of all the oppressed. The multiracial U.S. working class must be won through Marxist education and its own experience and struggle to the perspective of building a workers party that fights for socialist revolution.

“New World Order” Nightmare

As with the massive use of sophisticated weaponry against benighted Afghan tribesmen last year, the enormous firepower being deployed against Iraq is a gratuitous show of imperialist military force. Asia Times (19 March) correspondent Pepe Escobar wrote, “The European Union, China and Russia beware: the Shock and Awe demonstration that is about to be unleashed on Iraq is pure theatrical militarism.” “This is just the beginning,” said an administration official (New York Times, 23 March). “I would not rule out the same sequence of events for Iran and North Korea as for Iraq.” And Pentagon aide Richard Perle proclaims that France is no longer an ally and that NATO “must develop a strategy to contain our erstwhile ally” (quoted by Escobar).

As we assert in the 19 March statement of the Spartacist League/U.S.: “This is the shape of the ‘New World Order’ emerging from the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, whose military might helped to stay the hand of the American nuclear madmen.” The U.S. bourgeoisie seized on that world-historic defeat for the proletariat, the final undoing of the first workers revolution in history, to proclaim a “one-superpower world” in which no challenge to American imperialist hegemony would be countenanced.

As far back as 1992, right on the heels of the destruction of the Soviet Union, leading elements of what is now the White House/Pentagon inner circle called for “deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role,” in the words of a Defense Policy Guidance draft produced by current Vice President Richard Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. This is today official government policy, enshrined in the National Security Strategy affirming a general policy of “pre-emptive” war that was adopted by the White House last fall, only months after the Pentagon released a Nuclear Posture Review openly avowing a nuclear first-strike policy. The current White House/Pentagon cabal of Christian evangelicals and Zionist “neo-conservatives,” who are connected with the sinister Project for a New American Century (PNAC), openly asserts its god-given right to rule the world.

It is no accident that the Cheney cabal, which was a minority voice in the Bush Sr. administration, calls the shots under Bush Jr. The U.S. bourgeoisie has grown dizzy with success since the end of the Cold War, and Cheney & Co. are a distillation of this arrogant imperialist triumphalism. As Chalmers Johnson explained in an Internet article titled “Iraqi Wars” (10 January):

“After George W. Bush became president many of these men returned to positions of power in American foreign policy. For nine months, they bided their time. They were waiting, in the words of PNAC’s ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses,’ for a ‘catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor’ that would mobilize the public and allow them to put their theories and plans into practice. September 11 was, of course, precisely what they needed. Condoleezza Rice called together members of the National Security Council and asked them ‘to think about “how do you capitalize on these opportunities” to fundamentally change American doctrine, and the shape of the world, in the wake of September 11th’.”

For the bloody rulers of American imperialism, the slaughter of 3,000 New Yorkers in a criminal terrorist attack—carried out by Islamic fundamentalist creatures of U.S. imperialism—is nothing more than an “opportunity”!

U.S. Aided Saddam Hussein’s Rise to Power

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times (14 March), former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris points out: “Forty years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency, under President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein.” Intent on eliminating the bourgeois-nationalist Qassim (Kassem) regime that rode to power on the back of a massive uprising against the British-backed monarchy in 1958, the CIA organized a coup led by the anti-Communist Ba’ath party. Citing a former Ba’ath leader, Morris reports:

“Among party members colluding with the CIA in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein, then a 25-year-old who had fled to Cairo after taking part in a failed assassination of Kassem in 1958....

“Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the CIA, the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq’s educated elite—killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated....

“Soon, Western corporations like Mobil, Bechtel and British Petroleum were doing business with Baghdad—for American firms, their first major involvement in Iraq.”

Deposed shortly thereafter, in 1968 the Ba’athists staged another coup with CIA backing, which soon placed Saddam Hussein at the pinnacle of power. For years, U.S., German and French firms supplied Iraq with technology for the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and in 1983 Rumsfeld himself went to Baghdad for a cozy chat with Hussein, the man now dubbed “another Hitler.” It was only in 1990, when Washington no longer felt the need to counter Soviet influence in Baghdad and throughout the region, that the U.S. turned on the Iraqi strongman after he seized Kuwait from its billionaire oil sheik family.

The 1963 bloodbath was the price paid by Iraqi Communists, workers and Kurds for the betrayals of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy and the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) leadership in 1958-59. The overthrow of the monarchy opened up a revolutionary situation in which power was increasingly in the hands of the ICP, which had enormous support among the working masses, national and ethnic minorities and even sections of the military (see “Near East, 1950s: Permanent Revolution vs. Bourgeois Nationalism,” Part Two, WV No. 741, 8 September 2000). The U.S. drew up contingency plans for a counterrevolutionary invasion, with U.S. troops landing in Lebanon and British forces in Jordan. But instead of leading the Iraqi workers to power, the Stalinist ICP leadership tied them to Qassim’s bourgeois nationalists. On orders from the Khrushchev regime in Moscow, which was pursuing the pipedream of “peaceful coexistence” with U.S. imperialism, the ICP moved to rein in its working-class base, and the revolutionary wave began to recede, paving the way for the Ba’ath party’s bloody rise to power in 1963.

A workers revolution in Iraq, carried out under the banner of proletarian internationalism, would have had a profound impact throughout the Near East, inspiring revolutionary upheavals in other countries and helping to shatter the chauvinist consensus binding the Hebrew-speaking proletariat to the Israeli capitalist rulers. The beheading of the Iraqi proletariat had an equally profound effect in the opposite direction, allowing the imperialists to tighten their grip on the region. It also paved the way for the rise of reactionary Islamic fundamentalism—particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union—which today postures as the true friends of the besieged Palestinians and the only alternative to corrupt nationalist regimes and their Western patrons. Even the supposedly secularist Saddam Hussein emblazoned the words “Allah Akbar” (God Is Great) on the national flag on the eve of the first Gulf War and regularly peppers his speeches with references to god and jihad.

It is testimony to the atomization of the Iraqi proletariat, its strength further sapped by 12 years of privation, that the warmongers in Washington could believe they would encounter little resistance in conquering Iraq and even hope to be welcomed as “liberators.” To be sure, such cynical calculations are already beginning to fall apart and will most certainly go up in smoke in the course of a prolonged, brutal and uncertain occupation.

What turned the American invasion of Vietnam in the 1960s into a long, losing colonial war was mainly that the Vietnamese masses fought not only in a national struggle against the U.S. imperialists but for a social revolution to sweep away the indigenous landowners, military men, pimps and drug dealers who ruled on behalf of the imperialists. And this was greatly aided by the existence of the Soviet Union as a counterweight to the Americans.

In the face of this “people’s war,” the U.S. engaged in a war of annihilation against the Vietnamese people, slaughtering upwards of three million in the course of a decade. But the Vietnamese workers and peasants persevered and prevailed. The debt owed them by working people and minorities in the U.S. and around the world for their valor and sacrifice in humbling the blood-drenched American ruling class will only be repaid when U.S. imperialism is finally defeated for good through workers revolution in the belly of the beast.

The crimes of the Ba’athists against Iraqi workers, Kurds and Shi’ites serve to underline why the call for military defense of Iraq is counterposed to any political support to the Saddam Hussein regime. In this war, our position is one of revolutionary defensism toward Iraq: seeking to combine the struggle for national independence against American imperialist militarism with a social revolution against the Iraqi capitalists and landowners. But to this day, the Iraqi proletariat suffers from the legacy of its defeat in 1958-59. This underlines the necessity for the most advanced elements of the Iraqi proletariat to draw the lessons of the 1958-59 betrayal and fight to cohere a Leninist-Trotskyist party committed to the political independence of the proletariat. Only through proletarian revolutions against all the bonapartist dictators, sheiks and Zionist butchers can the workers and oppressed throw off the yoke of imperialism and lay the basis for a socialist federation of the Near East.

There is enormous anger throughout the world against this bloody invasion. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets of London and Berlin, and upwards of 300,000 marched through New York City on Saturday. From Spain to Yemen, protesters clashed with riot police. In Cairo, defiant demonstrators chanted, “Down with the Arab leaders!” To harness this anger into a struggle against the capitalist system that breeds war, it is necessary to forge revolutionary workers parties to lead the fight for international socialist revolution. Down with U.S. imperialism! Defend Iraq! All U.S. troops out of the Near East now!

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