Workers Vanguard No. 946
6 November 2009
Down With the Occupation of Afghanistan!
All U.S. Troops Out of Iraq Now!
As the U.S. rulers prepare to draw down troop levels in Iraq, the brutal, corrupt and devastated society that is their legacy is starting to come apart at the seams. On October 25, a pair of car bombs decimated the Iraqi Ministry of Justice and the office of the governor of Baghdad province, killing 155 people. This came about two months after bombs destroyed the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, killing about 100 people. Meanwhile, the bombings of residential neighborhoods, assassination of religious pilgrims and other interethnic bloodletting, while down from the gory highs of a few years ago, continue apace. Since June 30, when Washington proclaimed that almost all U.S. troops had withdrawn from urban areas to bases on the outskirts of Baghdad and other cities, almost 400 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives in sectarian violence.
President Barack Obama came to office promising to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq in order to ratchet up the U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, recently called for as many as 40,000 additional troops, warning that failure to “reverse insurgent momentum” in Afghanistan “risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible” (New York Times, 21 September). All this is further complicated for the U.S. by the recent fraudulent elections in Afghanistan and the announcement by opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah that he will not participate in the runoff election that the U.S. pressured Hamid Karzai into holding.
With administration officials still debating McChrystal’s request, Obama, in “an unannounced move” revealed by the Washington Post (13 October), authorized the Pentagon to dispatch 13,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Along with the 21,000 troops that Obama sent to Afghanistan in March, this will raise the total number of U.S. forces deployed in Iraq (now 120,000) and Afghanistan (soon to number 68,000) above the peak reached during the Iraq “surge” ordered by President Bush almost three years ago.
Potentially, the most explosive flash point in Iraq is along the so-called “trigger line” of oil-rich and ethnically mixed regions—especially in and around Kirkuk and Mosul—that separate Iraqi Kurdistan in the north from the predominantly Arab areas to its south and west. Under Saddam Hussein, hundreds of thousands of Kurds were forcibly driven from these areas and replaced by Arabs. Following the U.S. occupation, the Kurdish nationalists, who control the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sought to reverse the process, repatriating hundreds of thousands of Kurds in and around Kirkuk. Kurdish militias (the pesh merga) backed by U.S. troops have attacked Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs as well as the Turkmen and Christian Assyrian minorities, seizing their property and driving them out by the thousands.
In the past year, tensions between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, have heightened as Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki has sought to challenge the Kurdish nationalists’ territorial ambitions (and oil claims). This included an August 2008 military foray by federal troops under al-Maliki’s authority into Khanqin, a town that had been held by Kurdish pesh merga. Today, Iraqi politicians, unable to agree on who should be eligible to vote in Kirkuk, are deadlocked over a voting law for presidential elections scheduled for January.
The turmoil in Iraq has U.S. officials backpedaling on Obama’s pledge to withdraw 70,000 troops from that country by next August. A top Pentagon official told Congress on October 21 that a postponement of the Iraqi elections “might well have implications” for the planned drawdown of U.S. troops. The Los Angeles Times (26 October) observed: “An increase in violence could also force President Obama to reconsider his promises to withdraw U.S. troops.”
Such portrayals of the U.S. occupiers as guarantors of peace and stability in Iraq are beyond grotesque. The responsibility for the hell that has come to define life in Iraq today lies squarely with the imperialist powers. By some estimates, more than 1.2 million people have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. invasion—this on top of the 1.5 million slaughtered in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War as a result of the UN-sponsored blockade presided over by the Democratic Clinton administration. The imperialist occupation has unleashed and fostered the growth of all manner of reactionary forces in Iraqi society, from Islamic fundamentalists and rival clan leaders to virulent bourgeois nationalists. With these forces increasingly at each other’s throats, the stage is set for civil war within Iraq’s borders that would engender significant destabilization beyond.
Once a cultural center of the Near East and a relatively technologically sophisticated society, Iraq now lies in rubble. With the country’s infrastructure demolished by the U.S. onslaught and occupation, the desperate population lacks potable water, adequate health care and, for many, sufficient food. Fully 4.7 million people—about one in six Iraqis—have been driven from their homes and are refugees within the country or abroad. Some 50,000 people, routinely denied access to their families or to lawyers, rot in prisons run by the U.S. and its Iraqi puppet regime, where gruesome tortures are routine. We say: From Guantánamo to Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond—free all the detainees!
We demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. and other imperialist troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just as we took a side in defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against the U.S. invaders while politically opposing the Taliban reactionaries and Saddam Hussein’s bloody capitalist regime, we have a side today: against the U.S. occupiers and their allies. Insofar as the forces on the ground in Iraq aim their fire at the occupiers and their lackeys, we call for their military defense against U.S. imperialism. However, we stand in vehement political opposition to the various clerical and nationalist forces, who, in addition to launching insurgent strikes against U.S. forces, often deliberately hit civilians.
Our call for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. and allied forces is not premised on a belief that all will be right in that region in the aftermath. Nor do we think that imperialist dominance would fail to be exerted through the more normal post-colonial channels: the sway of the major capitalist powers over the national bourgeois and religious leaders in these backward countries, who gain their social power and wealth by maintaining the wretchedness of “their” people. Rather, as the Spartacist League declared in a Political Bureau statement on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (“Defend Iraq Against U.S./British Attack!” WV No. 800, 28 March 2003): “Every victory for the U.S. imperialists can only encourage further military adventures. In turn, every humiliation, every setback, every defeat they suffer will serve to assist the struggles of working people and the oppressed around the globe.”
The Iraqi working class has been devastated by the U.S. imperialist occupation, but the proletariat in the region remains a powerful force, such as in Iran, Egypt and Turkey. Freedom from grinding imperialist exploitation and the achievement of democratic rights for all people in the area cannot be achieved under capitalism. They require the overthrow of bourgeois rule, leading to the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East and linked to the fight for workers revolution in the advanced capitalist countries.
Iraq 1958: The Proletariat Betrayed
Iraq is not a nation but a patchwork of different peoples and ethnicities carved by the British imperialists out of the old Turkish Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War as a client state to oversee their oil interests. The country thus fabricated was a myriad of rival ethnic, religious and national groupings governed by feudal and tribal leaders, through which the British pursued their imperial policy of “divide and rule.” In such a society, the exertion of secular rule under capitalism is possible only under something like the late Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist dictatorship.
At the same time, the development of an oil industry in Iraq and elsewhere in the region led to the creation of a proletariat, in whose hands lay the power to lead all the oppressed against imperialist subjugation. In the 1950s, the Near East became a hotbed of revolutionary working-class struggles. In particular, the experience of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) in that period provides rich confirmation of our perspective of united class struggle by the multinational proletariat of the Near East as the means to ending imperialist subjugation, social reaction and brutal exploitation (see “Near East, 1950s: Permanent Revolution vs. Bourgeois Nationalism,” WV Nos. 740 and 741, 25 August and 8 September 2000).
Not only was the early ICP the most proletarian Communist Party in the Near East but it had a large component from oppressed national, religious and ethnic groups. A majority of the ICP’s early leaders were Christians and Shi’ites; it recruited a significant number of Jews; and in the early 1950s one-third of the party’s leadership was Kurdish. The 2002 documentary Forget Baghdad, focusing on four Iraqi-Jewish Communists who were eventually forced to flee to Israel, gives a sense of the power and influence that the ICP once had in Iraqi society.
From its inception, the ICP called for the right of Kurdish independence. But this principled position was abandoned in the mid 1950s. Pressured by the Kremlin bureaucracy, Stalinists throughout the Near East courted Arab nationalist regimes like Nasser’s in Egypt. The ICP criticized its previous stance “that there exist two main national groups in Iraq,” declaring that “the fraternal Kurdish people has no interests which are incompatible with the interests of any of the Arab countries” (see “The Kurdish People and the U.S. Occupation of Iraq,” WV Nos. 804 and 805, 23 May and 6 June 2003).
The most powerful demonstration yet of the revolutionary capacity of the working class in the Near East came in 1958 as the fall of the Iraqi monarchy touched off a huge proletarian upsurge. Armed, highly organized and led by the ICP, the proletariat literally had power in its grasp. The U.S. made contingency plans for a counterrevolutionary invasion, and U.S. troops landed in Lebanon while British forces entered Jordan. However, the Stalinist ICP leadership betrayed the uprising by subordinating the proletariat to the bourgeois-nationalist regime of General Abd al-Karim Qassim (Kassem). This betrayal was carried out under orders from Moscow with the aim of facilitating Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s upcoming parley with U.S. president Eisenhower in a futile quest for “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.
The defeat of the revolutionary wave prepared the way for a counterrevolutionary bloodbath in 1963, when the Ba’athist party (and its torturers, such as Saddam Hussein) briefly came to power for the first time and rounded up and murdered some 5,000 leftists and trade unionists on the basis of lists supplied by the CIA. Deposed shortly thereafter, the Ba’athists staged another coup in 1968 with CIA backing, which soon placed Hussein at the pinnacle of power.
For years, the U.S. and other imperialists supported the murderous dictatorship of the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein. As we wrote after Hussein was captured by U.S. forces (WV No. 816, 26 December 2003):
“Saddam Hussein was Washington’s bloody bastard. He was Washington’s close ally and client while he massacred tens of thousands of Kurdish people. He was a mainstay of U.S. imperialist policy in the Near East while he arrested, tortured and executed thousands of Iraqi Communists, workers’ leaders, leftists, ethnic minorities and religious opponents, and waged eight years of bloody war with predominantly Shi’ite Iran. But when Hussein slipped his leash and made a grab for Kuwait in 1990, this former ally and flunkey for U.S. imperialism in the Near East became Washington’s all-purpose bogeyman.”
Hussein was executed on 30 December 2006 after a show trial presided over by an Iraqi regime whose police and military run death squads that terrorize the population. The execution was, as we wrote at the time, “nothing more than barbaric ‘victor’s justice’” that “had the markings of a lynch mob” (WV No. 883, 5 January 2007).
Only Socialist Revolution Can End Imperialist War
A workers revolution in Iraq in 1958-59 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 Islamic fundamentalism, which today falsely postures as the defender of the besieged Palestinians and the only alternative to corrupt nationalist regimes and their Western patrons. In fact, notwithstanding U.S. imperialism’s “war on terror” crusade against political Islam, the U.S. has historically fostered the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. In 1950 Cold Warrior John Foster Dulles—who at the time of the 1958 Iraqi revolution was U.S. secretary of state—declared: “The religions of the East are deeply rooted and have many precious values. Their spiritual beliefs cannot be reconciled with Communist atheism and materialism. That creates a common bond between us, and our task is to find it and develop it” (cited in Paul A. Baran, The Political Economy of Growth ).
When the Iraqi proletariat raises its head again, it will come up against not only the imperialist forces but the domestic forces of reaction. In Iraq and throughout the Near East, Marxist workers parties must be forged in combat against imperialism and in opposition to all manner of nationalism and religious reaction. We fight for workers revolutions to overthrow all the bourgeois regimes of the region, including the Zionist state of Israel.
Essential to this perspective is the understanding of the necessity of socialist revolution in the imperialist centers. A central obstacle to winning U.S. workers to that understanding is widespread illusions in Democratic Party “lesser evilism.” Those illusions are assiduously propagated by the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy, which chains the working class to its capitalist class enemy.
Those illusions are also propagated by reformist “socialist” groups like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and Workers World Party (WWP). Through various coalitions, the reformist left built an antiwar movement (now defunct) that sought to lead protesters into unity with anything that passed for an “antiwar” Democrat. Thus all these coalitions refused to raise the elementary call for military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against the U.S., which would have repelled Democratic Party politicians. While today they complain about some of Obama’s policies, these fake “socialists” celebrated his election: WWP called it “a triumph for the Black masses and all the oppressed” (Workers World, 20 November 2008), while the ISO wrote an editorial the day after Obama’s inauguration titled “Looking Forward to Change,” where they declared that Obama’s election showed that “some of the cruel sins of America’s past were finally being overcome” (Socialist Worker online, 21 January).
In our opposition to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, we have stressed the need for class struggle against the U.S. capitalist rulers at home. Imperialist wars and occupations are the concentrated expression of a profit system that daily slaughters workers on the job, that consigns millions of jobless to the scrap heap, that metes out brutal cop repression against racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants. Imperialism is capitalism in its death agony, where a handful of advanced powers compete for control of markets, raw materials and access to cheap labor. This, and not particular governments or government policies, is the cause of imperialist war.
Here in the U.S., it is the multiracial working class that has the power to bring down the most dangerous enemy of all humanity, the U.S. ruling class. What is necessary is the forging of a revolutionary workers party, a U.S. section of a reforged Fourth International, that fights to overthrow the capitalist system through socialist revolution. Such a party can be built only through politically combating those who retard the political consciousness of the working masses by preaching that this system can be reformed to serve their interests. Only when the proletariat seizes power will imperialist slaughter, material scarcity and ethnic bloodletting be put to an end and the construction of an egalitarian socialist society begin.