Workers Hammer No. 229

Winter 2014-2015


Bloody British imperialism’s hand in Iraq war

In stark contrast to the bulk of the reformist left internationally, in the imperialists’ new war in Iraq and Syria, the International Communist League takes a military side with the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS) against the US-led coalition and its local adjuncts, based on the elementary Marxist understanding that it is the imperialists who are the main enemies of working people and the oppressed around the world. We are implacable opponents of the ultra-reactionary political and social programme of ISIS, and we condemn communal atrocities on all sides. But a victory for the US and its British and other coalition partners would further embolden the imperialists in their drive for domination and throw back the struggles of oppressed peoples and communities in the region.

Many liberals and reformist organisations, while claiming to oppose the imperialists’ intervention in Syria/Iraq, are simultaneously backing the Kurdish forces that are acting as imperialist proxies. In the battle for the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobani in northern Syria, the US has carried out airstrikes against ISIS and dropped arms and other supplies to fighters on the ground, mainly from the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is allied to the nationalist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) based in Turkey. PYD military forces are acting as ground troops and spotters for the US imperialists, thus tying the fortunes of the oppressed Kurdish population to the imperialists’ war against ISIS. While we uphold the right of national self-determination for the Kurdish people, who are oppressed by the bourgeois regimes in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, “championing the Kurds in the current conflict can only mean lending support to imperialist plunder”, as we explain in “Down with US/British war against ISIS!” (see page 1).

In their publicity for the Kurdish nationalists, reformists such as the Morning Star have retailed the PYD’s claims to be carrying out a social revolution in what the PYD calls Rojava (western Kurdistan) in northern Syria. Far from putting forward the overturn of capitalist property relations, the PYD’s charter for self-rule in Rojava enshrines the right to private property. The PYD has set up its own apparatus of repression through its military, police and prisons — ie a fledgling bourgeois state apparatus. While the members of the People’s Councils (who have been appointed by the PYD) include representatives of other parties and, in areas containing sizable non-Kurdish populations, members of other communities, these bodies have little real function beyond distributing humanitarian aid and other necessities. The International Crisis Group, an advisory body to the imperialists, observed of the PYD: “Most often, it took over the [Assad regime’s] governance structures and simply relabeled them, rather than generating its own unique model as it claims.” Whereas previously the PYD was one party in the multisided communalist slaughter in which the proletariat had no side, the bottom line now is that they have become part of the imperialist military campaign.

Throughout the last occupation of Iraq, the US and allied powers manipulated and reinforced sectarian divisions, inflaming communal violence in the region. The attempts of the Kurdish nationalist leaders to ingratiate themselves with the imperialists only reinforce this framework and betray the just struggles of the Kurdish people. Marxists seek to break Kurdish militants from these politics and win them to a revolutionary proletarian internationalist perspective, which centrally includes unconditional opposition to imperialism.

US/Britain: Hands off the Near East!

While Obama has insisted that the US will not deploy “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria, relying instead on forces allied to the PKK, Shi’ite militias, the Kurdish pesh merga and what is left of the Iraqi army in Baghdad as proxies, the imperialist intervention is escalating. Airstrikes have intensified and extended to the Kurdish regions of Syria around Kobani and to the north-western city of Aleppo. In early November, the White House requested $5.6 billion [£3.6 billion] in funding for the military campaign and doubled the US forces in Iraq: 1500 military “trainers” will join the 1400 troops already stationed in Baghdad and Erbil. The reinforcements are meant to set up training facilities across Iraq for nine Iraqi army and three pesh merga brigades, and to organise and equip 5000 Sunni tribesmen in Anbar Province.

The British imperialists were quick to enlist in the US’s new “coalition of the willing”, the third time they have signed on to a US-led war in Iraq in a quarter of a century. On 26 September 2014, Parliament — including the Labour Party “opposition” — overwhelmingly voted to authorise air strikes against ISIS. In fact, a Royal Navy attack submarine had already been deployed to the region, and RAF Tornado fighter jets had been carrying out “reconnaissance” flights for over a month. Since the vote, Tornado jets, equipped with laser-guided bombs and missiles, have been pounding Iraq day and night. Reaper drones have been moved in from Afghanistan to join in the bombing. Following the announcement that Britain is planning to offer advisory personnel to Iraqi headquarters and to provide additional training to pesh merga fighters, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond explained: “The Peshmerga are on the front line of the battle against ISIL. It is vital that the UK and all in the international community support them in this fight, which is our fight too.”

Echoing the White House, Labour MPs emphasised that the parliamentary vote excludes “boots on the ground”. However, British special forces were deployed to northern Iraq to operate alongside Kurdish forces in early August, and plan to open a base near the Kurdish city of Dohuk. Sure enough, these forces are not considered “boots on the ground” — neither are the 3000 US troops deployed to the region. The Financial Times (25 September 2014) explained these forces “are not deployed in frontline positions, but only in strategic roles”, underscoring that the US and British special forces view themselves as commanders and the Kurdish and other troops as cannon fodder.

Britain is launching its air assault from its military bases in the Greek part of Cyprus. After the former colony won independence in 1960, Britain retained 250 square kilometres of the island as “sovereign” territory for military bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia, trampling on Cypriot opposition. The bases are an important asset for the British imperialists and for NATO, providing a convenient outpost from which to attack North Africa and the Near East. RAF Akrotiri was a key staging and supply post for British forces in the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq, a role it has retained for operations in Afghanistan. In 2011, RAF Akrotiri was used to co-ordinate movements of British jets enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya and hosted surveillance aircraft. We demand the immediate withdrawal of all British troops from Cyprus, and the closure of the British military bases on the island.

To avoid a repetition of the debacle of August 2013, when a motion to bomb Syria was voted down in Westminster, David Cameron this time sealed a deal with Ed Miliband’s Labour Party in advance of the vote — which, given Labour’s warmongering, must not have been too hard! The authorisation did not include bombing in Syria, but, as Cameron made clear, the whole process was just parliamentary soap bubbles anyway: Britain will join the US bombing of Syria if there is “an urgent humanitarian need”, regardless of what was voted.

Amidst the war hysteria, on 22 September Tony Blair’s skeleton stepped out of Labour’s cupboard on the eve of the UN General Assembly to admonish the world of “the hard truth” that “air power alone will not suffice”. Blair also warned against the “fateful error” of targeting only Islamists who advocate violence, calling for wider action against the “ideology (and a theology derived from Salafist thinking) taught and preached every day to millions, actually tens of millions”. Indeed, the Cameron government seized on the rise of ISIS to announce new measures giving police the authority to confiscate passports of British citizens suspected of travelling to Iraq or Syria to support ISIS — or to prevent such individuals re-entering the country. The government also extended the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures, modelled on the draconian “control orders” originally introduced by the Blair government in 2005, which impose wide-reaching and arbitrary restrictions on the rights of “suspects”. Initially targeting Britain’s Muslim population, the “war on terror” has served as a pretext to enhance the state’s repressive powers, curtailing the democratic rights of everyone.

Reformists salute imperialists’ foot soldiers

The recent bloody history of the imperialists in the Near East, where they murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians in a brutal occupation that devastated Iraqi society, should be reason enough to reject any “humanitarian” justification for imperialist bombings. ISIS, al Nusra and similar reactionary Islamist forces emerged out of the Islamist contingents funded and armed by the US’s allies as proxies in their fight against Assad in Syria. In the mouth of the imperialist media, yesterday’s “democratic oppositionists” have become today’s “cutthroats”. Moreover, Britain has supported Turkey’s repression of the Kurdish people, and to this day lists the PKK as a terrorist organisation. (For many years, our organisation internationally has defended the PKK against state persecution in Germany, Britain and other countries, notwithstanding our political differences with the PKK.)

All of this however, is not enough to stop the reformist left from giving backhanded support to the latest imperialist adventure. In the article “No to the bombing of Syria and Iraq — solidarity with Kobane!” Workers Power concede that “for anti-imperialists in the West to give any endorsement or support to the war being waged by their governments in the region would be criminal”. But this recognition does not stop Workers Power from giving their wholehearted support to local forces acting as ground troops for the imperialists — the PYD military forces and the Islamist-dominated Free Syrian Army — under the banner of “solidarity with the Kurdish popular defence and the Syrian revolution”. Workers Power insist: “Kobane’s struggle deserves the support of the labour movement in Britain and across Europe. It is no less justified because it has benefited, in the very short term, from the imperialist airstrikes. We should demand material and military assistance to the Kurds and other progressive forces in Syria and Iraq without any political preconditions” (Workers Power, November 2014). The Kurdish people will not benefit from their leaders turning them into cannon fodder for the imperialists. This can only fuel more communalist bloodletting.

Despite her occasional anti-imperialist speechifying, the Stop the War Coalition’s Lindsey German also came out in support of PYD forces in Rojava, signing on to a 1 November “Global Rally against ISIS — for Kobanê — for Humanity!”. This should be no surprise, since Stop the War’s aim is to pressure the leaders of British imperialism to adopt a better foreign policy. The flyer for their 27 August London meeting on “How to Stop the Spread of War” explained their perspective: “We need the biggest possible protests to force them to break from their aggressive foreign policy.” Imperialist war and plunder are not simply bad policies that can be reversed. They are fundamental to capitalism, a system whose existence is based on creating profits for a handful of capitalists through the brutal exploitation of labour at home and the murderous plundering of the neocolonial world for markets, cheap labour and resources.

Before US imperialism rose to become “top cop” of the imperialist world, Britain was the dominant imperialist power, and the British ruling class’s divide-and-rule schemes in the colonial world have major responsibility for the current bloody divisions in the Near East. Our comrades in the Spartacist League/US fight to forge a revolutionary workers party “in the belly of the imperialist beast”. Likewise in Britain, the consciousness of the burning need to fight that murderous “enemy within” that is the imperialist ruling class must be awakened in the proletariat and a revolutionary party forged to lead that struggle.