Workers Hammer No. 228
US, Britain out of Iraq!
At the NATO summit held in Wales in early September, the British government signed on to a “core coalition” of ten countries pledged to destroy the fundamentalist Islamic State (ISIS) insurgents who, in the space of a few months, have seized vast areas of both Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic “caliphate” in the territory they control. US forces have been conducting air strikes against ISIS since 8 August — almost 150 in the first month of that campaign. Hundreds of US troops have been deployed, backed up by Apache attack helicopters and unmanned aircraft. These attacks represent the first direct military intervention by Washington in Iraq since the last occupation troops were withdrawn in December 2011. For their part, the British imperialists have been transporting military supplies to the Kurdish pesh merga fighters for use against ISIS and are now also threatening to launch air strikes. US Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that the battle to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State will take three years.
The current communal civil war in Iraq pits the Shi’ite-dominated regime in Baghdad against a Sunni-based insurgency that encompasses ISIS, tribal leaders and former Ba’ath Party officials. The infernal cycle of bloodletting is resulting in the effective breakup of the country, with the Shi’ites in control of the capital and southern Iraq. After Baghdad’s army abandoned Kirkuk amid the ISIS advance in June, Kurdish pesh merga military forces seized that hotly contested, oil-rich city. Kurdish leaders have also taken steps to further consolidate the autonomous Kurdish region in the north.
The wave of communal bloodletting in Iraq was nourished by the devastating civil war in Syria, where sundry imperialist and regional powers have backed an insurgency dominated by reactionary forces, centrally from the majority Sunni Muslim population, directed against the Assad regime. Sunni fundamentalists, bolstered by support from the imperialists’ allies like Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states as well as Turkey, have increasingly dominated the revolt against Assad. In January, ISIS expanded its operations from Syria into Iraq in support of a rebellion against the then-Maliki government launched by Sunni tribal leaders in Falluja and Ramadi, Anbar province’s two largest cities.
The world’s toilers have no side in the communal conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The international working class definitely does have a side in opposing imperialist intervention in Iraq (and Syria) and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all US/British/NATO troops and mercenaries from the region. It is those same imperialists who are the bloodiest enemies of the world’s working people, as most graphically illustrated by the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Iraqis slaughtered in the quest for dominance in the region. Any force, however unsavoury, that attacks, repels, or otherwise impedes US/British forces strikes a blow in the interests of the exploited and the oppressed.
Down with the racist “war on terror”!
The Cameron government, backed by Labour, has seized on the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria to announce yet another raft of measures curtailing civil liberties in the name of the racist “war on terror”. The proposed legislation includes giving police the power to confiscate the passports of British citizens suspected of travelling to Iraq and Syria to support ISIS. There are also plans to prevent suspected British jihadis from returning to this country, a measure which would effectively render stateless those who have only British citizenship. Those deemed “terror suspects” by the government may be forced to undergo compulsory “de-radicalisation” programmes.
Also included in the proposed new legislation is an extension of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) to include the power to relocate suspects. In essence, this constitutes a repackaging of the control orders that were introduced by the Blair Labour government in 2005. Control orders are a form of house arrest, imposed at the whim of the government without the need for any charges to be brought against a suspect. They impose rigid conditions on where a suspect can reside or work, who they can contact, where they can travel, whether they can use phones or the internet — the list is virtually limitless. Control orders were so draconian that they were eventually replaced by TPIMs, which are less restrictive but mean greater surveillance.
We have consistently opposed the “war on terror”. It is directed firstly at Britain’s Muslim population but takes aim at all those perceived as opponents of capitalist class rule. Ultimately, the target of the “war on terror” is the workers movement. In a legal brief filed jointly by the Spartacist League/US and the Partisan Defense Committee in 2003, we stated: “The ‘war against terrorism’ is a fiction, a political construct, not a military reality . Like the ‘war against communism’ and the ‘war against drugs,’ this ‘war’ is a pretext to increase the state’s police powers and repressive apparatus, constricting the democratic rights of the population” (“Jose Padilla Case: Marxists Oppose Government Attack on Citizenship Rights”, Workers Vanguard no 808, 29 August 2003).
Outlining the new anti-terror measures in a speech to Parliament on 1 September, Cameron intoned: “Adhering to British values is not an option or a choice; it is a duty for all those who live in these islands”. The “values” of the British imperialists in Iraq, to cite just one example, were on display in the brutal slaying of hotel worker Baha Mousa by British troops in September 2003. Mousa was tortured to death, suffering more than 93 injuries prior to death.
In opposition to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, we have repeatedly stressed the need for class struggle against the capitalist rulers at home in defence of those neocolonial countries. Our revolutionary perspective stands in stark contrast to that of the reformist left. The Stop the War Coalition, founded by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), offers a perspective limited to lobbying Britain’s rulers for a change in the country’s foreign policy. Its strategy was to appeal to a presumed “rational” wing of the ruling class that believes British imperialism’s interests are being damaged by mindlessly following US military adventures abroad.
The truth is that military depredations are part of the “normal” workings of imperialism, the profit-driven capitalist system in its epoch of decay, in which the advanced industrial powers compete globally for control of markets, raw materials and access to cheap labour. The ravages of British imperialism abroad are reflected domestically in grinding poverty, racial oppression and intensified exploitation of the working class by the capitalists. The working class must be won to the understanding that it has the social power and interest to eradicate capitalist imperialism and the wars this system breeds. What is necessary is the forging of a revolutionary workers party that fights to overthrow the capitalist system through socialist revolution.
Bitter fruit of imperialist divide-and-rule
At the NATO summit Cameron declared that air strikes against ISIS in Syria did not need permission from the Syrian government because “Assad has been part of the creation of IS[IS], rather than part of its answer”. Blaming Assad for ISIS takes some chutzpah. Just a year ago, Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat in Parliament when he sought approval for military action against the Assad regime on behalf of an opposition that included the same ISIS forces Cameron and Obama now seek to destroy.
The ultra-reactionary ISIS — whose method of rooting out “apostates” like the Christians and Yazidis as well as Turkmen and Shi’ites, amounts to mass butchery — is the spawn of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is itself the product of the US/British occupation. The founding elements of Al Qaeda, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of its Iraqi affiliate, were trained and funded by the CIA as it assembled a reactionary horde to oppose the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The large-scale, ongoing bloodshed in the Near East, and the promise of more, has the bourgeois media in the US and Britain pointing the finger at Islam’s centuries-old sectarian rifts. In reality, the main culprit is the history of imperialist divide-and-rule of Iraq and the rest of the region by the European powers and more recently the US. As we wrote at the time, the US/British occupation threatened “the trisection of Iraq into Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish sectors, with battles to come over the possession of its oil wealth” (Workers Vanguard no 882, 8 December 2006).
Once one of the more advanced countries in the Near East and a regional cultural centre, Iraq was laid waste by over a decade of US-dictated starvation sanctions, two devastating wars and the eight-year military occupation of that country. The arrogant American ruling class viewed its military superiority as a guarantee that it could defeat any conceivable enemy at any time. All that was needed to put Iraq directly under its thumb was enough firepower deployed with sufficient savagery. The US and Britain unleashed mass murder, indiscriminate terror and torture on a scale far exceeding that employed by Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi strongman they replaced.
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US/British occupiers moved quickly to purge former members of Hussein’s Ba’ath Party from government jobs. That act largely removed Sunnis from the state administration and helped trigger a communal-based Sunni rebellion. In 2006, the US/British occupation authorities installed Maliki as their quisling prime minister (and in 2010 would again support his bid for the office). Maliki oversaw a wave of anti-Sunni terror carried out by the overwhelmingly Shi’ite army and police backed up by Shi’ite death squads. In August he was forced out of office, laughably scapegoated by the US/British imperialists because his government was insufficiently “inclusive”.
ISIS has posted a video on its website titled End of Sykes-Picot. This is a reference to the secret agreement during World War I by which Britain and France agreed to divide up the spoils of their impending victory over the Ottoman Empire. For the reactionaries of ISIS, the destruction of that Turkish empire marked the end of the last caliphate, a world to which they aspire to return. In fact, the colonial division of the Ottoman Empire, out of which Iraq issued, retains significance today precisely because it set the stage for the reactionary communal conflagration that is erupting across the Near East. In turn, the deepening sectarian bloodshed in Iraq underlines the fact that it is not a nation but rather a patchwork of different peoples and ethnicities — primarily Shi’ite Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!
The publication of the Sykes-Picot treaty by the newly established Soviet workers state in late 1917 exposed the imperialist intrigues and had an electrifying effect, helping to spark a series of national revolts and popular uprisings across the region. It is a sign of despair that the most prominent voices in the Near East calling to undo Sykes-Picot today are religious bigots who aim to crush those who do not worship their preferred deity in their prescribed way. That has not always been the case, and it will not remain so indefinitely.
We base ourselves programmatically on the experience of VI Lenin’s Bolshevik party that led the 1917 Russian Revolution, which had an enormous impact on the Near East. But well before mass Communist parties (CPs) were able to take root in the area, a conservative bureaucratic caste under Stalin had usurped political power in the Soviet workers state. This ruling bureaucracy repudiated the Bolshevik programme of international socialist revolution in favour of “building socialism in one country” and its corollary, “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. In the Near East as elsewhere in the colonial world, this outlook was expressed in the espousal of “two-stage revolution”, which meant support to a supposedly progressive wing of the bourgeoisie while indefinitely postponing the proletarian revolution.
Nonetheless, the large Stalinist Communist parties that emerged in the mid 1930s and ’40s in many Arab countries attracted the most class-conscious workers and radical intellectuals. Typically, these CPs were either founded by or based heavily on minorities. The various Egyptian communist groups were all formed by Egyptian Jews. The Iraqi CP had Kurds and Jews in its leadership (see “Near East, 1950s: Permanent Revolution vs. Bourgeois Nationalism”, Workers Vanguard nos 740 and 741, 25 August and 8 September 2000).
There is a rich tradition of working-class struggle in the Near East, whose highest point was the Iraqi Revolution of 1958. That revolution was touched off by the overthrow of the monarchy by left-nationalist officers on Bastille Day 1958. The whole country rose up. As workers staged massive demonstrations in the cities, some numbering a million people, peasants staged insurrections throughout the countryside, killing landlords and seizing the land. The Iraqi CP had the overwhelming support of the multinational working class. It also had broad support among other layers of the population, including within the army and even some sections of the officer corps. It is clear that the Iraqi CP could have taken power. But in the interests of “peaceful coexistence” with the US, the Soviet bureaucracy sold out the revolution, ordering the Iraqi CP to stand down. Under the sway of the programme of “two-stage revolution” the Iraqi CP went along, putting the brakes on the movement.
The Iraqi Revolution held out enormous historic possibilities for workers of the Near East and for oppressed peoples like the Kurds. Today, spread across four countries — Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran — the people of Kurdistan still constitute the largest nation by area without a state. When Iraqi Kurdish leaders recently announced plans for a referendum on independence from Baghdad, the Obama administration let them know, in no uncertain terms, that Kurdish independence is not on Washington’s agenda.
The history of the Kurdish people’s national struggle is a litany of betrayals by their nationalist leaders, who systematically sought to gain advantage by currying favour with sundry capitalist powers. A case in point was provided by the Kurdish leaders in Iraq who actively collaborated with the 2003 US invasion, offering their pesh merga as an auxiliary to US military forces. The Kurdish masses must look to an alliance with the Arab, Persian and Turkish proletariat — which in turn must be won to championing Kurdish self-determination — in a revolutionary struggle to overthrow capitalist rule in the four countries that oppress them and establish a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan (see “The Kurdish People and the US Occupation of Iraq”, Workers Vanguard nos 804 and 805, 23 May and 6 June 2003).
Iraq today is a shattered society. The future of the Iraqi masses as a whole is dependent on working-class struggle in nearby countries with strategic concentrations of proletarian power. We have no illusions that it will be an easy task to win workers of the Near East, ground down by their capitalist rulers and imperialist overlords, to the Marxist programme of proletarian revolution. But there will be no end to ethnic and national oppression, no emancipation of women, no end to the exploitation of working people short of overthrowing the capitalist order. That requires the forging of revolutionary working-class parties in opposition to all forms of bourgeois ideology, religious reaction and imperialism, as part of a genuine Trotskyist Fourth International, which would link the fight for a socialist federation of the Near East to the struggle for proletarian revolution in the imperialist centres.