March 2003: statement from the
Committee for a Workers International
Imperialist invasion of Iraq meets widespread resistance
End the war on Iraq
US, British and Australian troops out of Iraq
and the Gulf
Workers’ action to stop all supplies to the
Organise Strike Action
Turkish troops out of northern Iraq
Let the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples decide their
The first days of war have seen the original battle
plans of US and British imperialism - for a short sharp conflict - suffer a
serious setback even by their own yardstick. Bush and Blair’s strategy has
fallen apart at the first real engagement. They launched their assault believing
that this would be a short war. They thought that a combination of massive
technical and military superiority and, basing themselves on what some Iraqi
exiles told them, popular hostility to Saddam would result in the US and British
troops being welcomed as liberators.
But this has not yet occurred and, as an analyst on
TF1, France’s biggest TV station, commented on 24 March: "The scenario of
a regime as a clan that is cut off from its people is just not happening".
The Financial Times Deutschland wrote: "The Iraqi population are
obstinately fighting against ‘liberation’ from Saddam" (25 March). Just
a week after the attack began, the Pentagon has been forced to change tactics
and is rushing 30,000 reinforcements from the US to join the fighting.
This war is being fought against the background of
massive popular opposition around the world and sharp division between the main
powers. These factors have played an important role in how the war has been
fought up until now. The original plans for the US’ "Shock and Awe"
bombing campaign have, so far, been scaled down from what was originally
threatened. Partly this was due to the fear of provoking even wider worldwide
opposition, including within Britain and the US. Furthermore carpet-bombing is
not a "war of liberation" and would only deepen Iraqi opposition to
But the war is not going to Washington and London’s
plan. Apparently learning a lesson from the 1991 Gulf war, the Iraqi army has so
far avoided large scale fighting in the desert where they would be exposed to US
and British air power. Instead they have sought to engage the invading forces in
urban areas where high technology weapons do not have such an advantage.
Stubborn Iraqi resistance
Already the US and British have been stung by the
extent of resistance in small towns like Umm Qasr and fear that their 480
kilometre-long supply lines from Kuwait to front line units are vulnerable to
ambush. The pre-war arguments within the US military establishment have
resurfaced as US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld is again being criticised by some
former senior officers for his over-reliance on air power and failure to involve
more heavily armoured infantry units in the attack.
However, it is not just the use of different tactics by
the Iraqi military that has created this situation. Fundamentally the political
assumptions upon which Bush and Blair based their policies are being shown to be
false. The US and British leaders are guilty of the biggest mistake in war of
believing their own propaganda. They thought that their own fine words about
"liberation" from Saddam’s rule, plus Bush cynically announcing a
vague "road map" for Palestine, would ensure them popular support
among the Iraqi people and acquiescence in the Middle East.
Bush and Blair dismissed any notion that the ideas of
Iraqi nationalism, anti-imperialism and Islam would fuel deep opposition to this
invasion led by what are seen as two fundamentalist Christian leaders. But
Washington’s unflinching support for Sharon’s brutal daily repression of
Palestinians, all the discussion about who would control Iraq’s oil and even
the granting of the profitable post-war reconstruction contracts to US companies
all merely served to confirm to Iraqis the imperialist character of this war.
Furthermore the General named by Bush to be co-ordinator for civilian
administration in a defeated Iraq, Jay Garner, has links with the right wing
Jewish Institute for National Security affairs. The Bush administration also did
not see that the Turkish people’s deep hostility to imperialism would also
undermine their plan to use Turkey as a staging post for a northern advance into
The reality now is that report after report speaks of
US soldiers being shocked and surprised at being drawn into street fighting in
the few towns and villages they have so far sought to enter. Speaking of the
resistance put up by the young Iraqi paramilitary units, the New York Times
quoted one top US officer saying: "We did not expect them to attack"
(26 March). Another US officer said: "We did not put much credence in their
The ordinary US soldiers are paying the price of their
political commanders’ arrogance and imperial ambitions. As US casualties mount
increasing numbers will draw the comparison with Bush and vice-president Cheney
who planned this war for years but in the past, both made sure they avoided
being sent to fight in the Vietnam War.
The US has been claiming victories that did not occur.
Rumsfeld declared on 21 March that Umm Qasr was "taken" yet the
fighting continued for four more days and even now it is only safe for the
US-led invaders during daylight. One US Marine officer complained, "The
fighting has got worse each day. So much for the walkover we were told to
expect" (Times, London, 24 March). This was in a small town of only 4,000
inhabitants, the size of an average housing scheme in Europe. The continual
fighting in much larger Nasiriyah, a city of 400,000, where the US appears to
control two bridges arose the Euphrates, is a warning of what battles in Basra
and Baghdad could mean. Again the US forces were, "Taken aback by the
ferocity of the Iraqi defence of the city" (Guardian, London, 25 March)
especially because they expected to be welcomed by its majority Shia Muslim
One thing is clear, not once in the first week of
fighting have the US or British governments dared to claim that the Iraqi people
are welcoming them. On the contrary, every report from within Iraq speaks of the
deep hostility towards Bush in particular.
The course of the fighting is already brutalising young
US soldiers. One journalist reported how US Marines, "Reacted to ragged
sniping with an aggressive series of house searches and arrests" - a sure
way to win the gratitude of the population! Fearful of attacks, US and British
soldiers are now shooting Iraqis who simply look suspicious. US General Wesley
Clark, the former NATO supreme commander, has written about the need, "To
control the civilian population in the areas we have occupied", because,
"Among the population will be Iraqi agents" (Times, London 25 March).
The mere fact that Clark uses the term "Iraqi agents", not even
"Saddam’s agents", is an indication of how the entire Iraqi people
are increasingly being seen as potential enemies of the US and British forces.
The events around Basra, Iraq’s second largest city
with a population of around 1.5 million have exposed the false assumptions in
the US and British governments’ plan. Their scheme was based on being welcomed
by its mainly Shia population, but that has not happened so far. Originally, as
the New York Times reported on 18 March, "Military and allied officials
familiar with the planning of the upcoming campaign say they hope that a
successful and 'benign' occupation of Basra that results in flag-waving crowds
hugging British and American soldiers will create an immediate and positive
image worldwide, while also undermining Iraqi resistance elsewhere."
One result of the absence of "flag-waving
crowds" was that the US and Britain have bombed and shelled parts of Basra.
On March 22 alone, using cluster bombs amongst other munitions, they killed over
50 civilians in the city. Such tactics only strengthen the distrust of the
"liberators". The Arabic TV channel, al-Jazeera, had a team working in
the city and it sent back graphic pictures of dead and wounded civilians. These
were widely shown, to great effect, throughout the Arab world, and stiffened the
opposition to the US-led invasion, as have the subsequent pictures of the
wrecked Al Shaab market in north Baghdad. There has been hard fighting around
Basra; in one incident around the city British troops were forced to retreat 15
Early on 25 March, local British military commanders
said the status of Basra had changed and, instead of being under "benign
occupation", the city was now a military objective, giving the propaganda
spin that this was, "In order to get humanitarian aid through". But
what does this mean? Traditionally, there are three main methods of militarily
attacking a city: direct assault involving house-to-house street fighting,
artillery and air bombardment - as launched by the Israelis in Beirut and the
Russians in the Chechen capital Grozny - or by laying siege to the city.
However, the civilian causalities and suffering
implicit in all three of these options do not fit in with the so-called
"war of liberation" on behalf of the Iraqi people supposedly being
conducted by Bush and Blair. In a situation where already there is rising fury
within the Arab world and worldwide opposition to the war, the employment of any
of these tactics in Basra, Baghdad or other Iraqi cities would provoke a
dramatic increase in international anger and could provoke "regime
change" in Arab countries.
On 25 March, the US and British commanders started to
report an "uprising" beginning in Basra, however steadily the scale of
this was downgraded. On the next day British Defence Minister Hoon had to admit
that the situation was "unclear", while al-Jazeera reported that the
city was quiet and showed pictures of people calmly queuing for water. By 27
March the Financial Times was reporting "Basra ‘uprising’
evaporates". As is always said, one of the first casualties of war is
truth. We are also witnessing a stream of propaganda and "psyops" from
both sides. It is entirely possible that the British and US were speaking of a
rebellion as a pretext to assault the city.
But even if a revolt took place in Basra, it would not
automatically follow that the same thing will develop in Baghdad. Nor would a
Basra uprising against Saddam mean that the US and British armies would
automatically be welcome. Even if the US and British troops were suddenly
greeted as liberators by some Iraqis, who long who that last? When the British
army was first deployed in Northern Ireland, and when the Israelis first entered
south Lebanon, they were both welcomed by many sections of the local population.
But rapidly these forces came into bitter conflict with the very communities
that had first greeted them.
Already on 25 March, Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, a leader
of the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the main Shia
groups which have been working with the US and Britain, issued a warning that:
"Coalition forces are welcome in Iraq as long as they help the Iraqi people
get rid of Saddam’s dictatorship, but Iraqis will resist if they seek to
occupy or colonise our country". However, Baqir al-Hakim is deluded in
welcoming US troops and hoping they will quickly leave. The very next day Colin
Powell made clear the US’s plans for Iraq when he told the US Congress:
"We didn’t take on this huge burden … not to be able to have
significant, dominating control over how it unfolds in the future." This is
a formula for colonial rule and most of those Iraqis who misguidedly welcome the
US-led invaders will start to oppose them as the imperialist character of their
occupation becomes clear.
The US and British initial battle plan involved a
combination of the fast, independent armoured advances and air assaults which
were supposed to cause Iraqi resistance to collapse. Partly this was based upon
the strategies developed by the British and German officers, Liddel Hart and
Guderian, before the Second World War - ideas which were the basis for the
Wehrmacht’s Blitzkrieg strategy between 1939 and 1942. However, behind the
Nazi Panzer divisions were large numbers of infantry. But currently, the US and
Britain have only 100,000 troops either in Iraq or in the region ready to move
Rumsfeld evidently thought that the Saddam regime was
so isolated that the war would be over in a matter of days, and overruled those
US generals who wanted a larger military force. Only weeks before the invasion,
the US army chief of staff, General Sinseki, told the US Congress that 200,000
ground troops were needed. The original strategy of the Bush, Cheney and
Rumsfeld gang relied on air power and mobile forces, with relatively fewer
numbers of infantry. In reality, the Bush administration believed their
propaganda that one push would bring down the Iraqi regime. That was the reason
for the "decapitation" attempt at the outset of this war.
Now the US army especially finds itself in a
potentially dangerous situation and is having to rush in reinforcements. The
rapid advance of a spearhead through the desert has created a 480-kilometre
supply chain. Leaving aside any rotation of fighting units this armoured force
has huge logistical requirements. For example it needs 500,000 gallons of fuel a
day. But much of this supply chain is largely unprotected, vulnerable to attack
by Iraqi units that have been bypassed and the US military fears that it does
not have enough troops to guard their supply lines.
The US and British invaders completely underestimated
the Iraqi people’s hostility to imperialism which has led to the common,
correct, belief that this war as a struggle against re-colonisation and to
defend national independence. It is the belief, on the Iraqi side, that this war
is against foreign enslavers that has spurred on the resistance. The bombing
campaign, and now the British artillery bombardment of Basra, is not winning the
support of the Iraqi masses. The stridently pro-war Wall Street Journal wrote
that, "Far from being hailed as liberators, US and British forces in
southern Iraq have faced deep hostility and gunfire from residents desperate for
food and water, and upset about the invasion… The initial muted welcome is
turning to open hostility as civilian casualties keep rising. ‘How can we be
happy? They are killing our people here’, said farmer Majid Simsim. ‘We want
our country to be independent again and the Americans to leave.’" (24
Again and again reporters have come across Iraqis who
have no time whatsoever for Saddam’s regime and who want to fight the
invaders. The Financial Times reported, "Soldiers are not being welcomed as
liberators but often are confronted with hatred", (March 25). It is not a
question of support for Saddam’s regime. Countless reporters quote Iraqis
saying, "Our country comes first", and, "I’m not fighting for
Saddam, I’m fighting for Iraq".
The pro-war Evening Standard newspaper in London
reported one Iraqi collecting $400 for his journey home from Jordan, the fare
used to be $8. This Iraqi declared "I’m going back to defend my family
and my land against the Americans and British. I can’t understand why the
Americans thought we would welcome them and throw flowers at them. They are
invaders. We will never surrender to them. I am a Shia Muslim – not a Sunni
like Saddam – and they thought we would fight against the Sunnis. But we are
not. We are uniting to fight a common enemy" (25 March). This is the
motivation for the Iraqis currently trying to return home from other countries
in order to join the battle. In the first week of war over 5,200 Iraqis crossed
the Jordanian/Iraqi land border on their way back into Iraq. And other Arabs
looking to fight the invaders are joining them.
Deep-rooted hostility to imperialism
This hostility towards imperialism has deep roots.
Firstly it is directed against British imperialism, which, from the end of the
First World War, tried to dominate the area and installed a king who had nothing
to do with Iraq, but who was out of work after the French imperialists had
ousted him as a short-lived King of Syria! When in 1920 the Iraqi people rose in
rebellion, the British air force invented the idea of punishment bombings of
rebel areas and the British commander, General Haldane, called for poison gas to
be used against civilian areas - another new idea. It was only in 1958, as
radical Arab nationalism was sweeping the Middle East, that the British-backed
puppet regime was finally removed.
Today the Arab masses as a whole see US imperialism as
their main oppressor - supporting the Israeli government’s oppression and
occupation of Palestinian land, being responsible for the years of sanctions
against Iraq, backing the corrupt semi-feudal Arab elites which dominate the
region, and exploiting the Middle East’s oil. The mere fact that Iraq has now
held out longer in its battle with the US, the world’s hyper-power, than three
Arab states which together fought Israel in 1967 has produced an immense sense
of pride amongst the Arab masses who have become used to repeated betrayals by
corrupt Arab leaders.
This "war for oil" is seen very concretely in
the Middle East as a war to allow the US to control the region’s main natural
resource directly by occupying Iraq and indirectly by bolstering its support for
rotten feudal elites ruling Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. It is not
accidental that the Saudi regime is keeping secret the fact that the bombing
campaign is being directed from a US base within Saudi Arabia. An Arab diplomat
told the New York Times, "If people knew that, they’d be in the
streets" (25 March). Similarly in Jordan King Abdullah is desperately
trying to hide the fact that US troops are using the country as a base to attack
targets in western Iraq.
The declarations of Bush and Blair that this war is for
liberation are viewed, at the very least, with deep scepticism. The years of US
and British imperialism’s support for and arming of Saddam’s dictatorship,
up until the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, are not forgotten. Nor is the fact that
these powers allowed the 1991 uprising to be crushed. It is clear that US and
British imperialism wish to keep intact as much of the Iraqi power structure as
they can. In reality they want 'Saddamism' without Saddam. The imperialists fear
mass movements of the working class people because they can develop into
challenges to capitalism and imperialism’s exploitation of the region. This is
why Bush plans military rule for a whole period after a battlefield victory,
there will be no support for popular uprisings against the US and any stooges it
puts in office.
Bush and Blair will promise all things to gain support
in the war. What happens afterwards is a different question. The Kurdish leaders
collaborating with the imperialists are preparing the way for yet another defeat
of the Kurdish people’s national aspirations. Bush and Blair will not allow
the Kurdish people to freely decide their own future.
Saddam’s strategy was firstly to politically base the
defence against an invasion upon Iraqi nationalist and religious opposition to
the foreign invader and to draw the US and British armies into urban warfare
where their air power is more difficult to use. Indeed US and British aerial
bombardment could actually complicate urban fighting by enraging the local
population and providing more difficult fighting terrain.
Saddam aims for a lengthy conflict in and around the
urban areas that will fuel international pressure, particularly within the Arab
world, on both the US and Britain for some kind of compromise. In such a
situation of drawn-out fighting, or even some kind of stalemate, there would be
mounting questions and opposition to the war in both the US and British as
casualties increase. However even the future of the Bush administration is at
stake in this conflict. In the administrations' own words, they are determined
to "prevail" and secure the removal of Saddam. The prestige of US and
British imperialism is at stake in this war and, like a wounded beast, they can
retaliate to initial military setbacks by setting aside restraints and launching
a ferocious bombing and ground campaign.
Only revolutionary upheavals in other Arab countries
and international action by the working class could force an end to this war.
Such a development would be a devastating defeat for US and British imperialism,
and they will strive might and main to avoid it. But military victory, in the
sense of occupying Baghdad, will come at an enormous price economically and in
the repercussions internationally, especially throughout Arab and Muslim
Bush has placed his future on the line and desperately
needs a victory. But nevertheless, he still faces a dilemma inside the US.
Despite the impact of 11 September, the Vietnam syndrome has not been completely
broken within the US. This is the reason for the US military’s desperate
attempt to minimise their own casualties. Some US officers, like retired General
McCaffrey, head of an infantry division in the 1991 Gulf War, argue that the US
must be prepared to take at least between 2,000 to 3,000 casualties in a battle
for Nasiriyah alone. "If the Iraqis actually fight, clearly it’s going to
be brutal, dangerous work", he says. Large numbers of dead and injured
would inevitably increase opposition in the United States to Bush’s
premeditated attack on Iraq. In the rest of the world, particularly the Middle
East, there would be a furious reaction to the civilian suffering that street
battles in Baghdad would entail.
A sudden collapse of Iraqi resistance in the face of
savage attacks, although now not the most likely perspective, cannot be ruled
out. The US is still desperately attempting to encourage an internal coup to
remove Saddam. There are reports of the US army starting to try to bribe
tribesmen - a tactic they extensively used in Afghanistan. However Iraq is not
Afghanistan and the Saddam regime has spent much time consolidating support
amongst the tribes.
It cannot be ruled out that the war will continue for a
longer time, with sieges of cities and urban fighting. But even if the US and
Britain secure control of Iraq’s cities and oil fields, this would not mean an
end to resistance. After a period of time, there is the probability that
increasing resentment at and resistance to foreign rule will express itself both
in mass protests and guerrilla attacks in the cities and the countryside.
Already the Financial Times has warned: "It is not clear…whether ordinary
Iraqis are happy to be invaded, however much they hate Mr. Hussein. It is even
less certain how they will react to being occupied" (25 March).
The anger outside Iraq in the rest of the Middle East
is rapidly growing and a longer war will stoke the anger among Arabs. Such a
development would open the way for a strengthening of opposition to the
pro-imperialist Arab regimes.
Huge global anti-war protests
The outbreak of war was met with huge protests in a
large number of countries around the world, including hundreds of thousands
demonstrating in the US and Britain. In both London and New York up to 500,000
marched on March 22, in New York this protest was larger than the previous one
on February 15. Workers in Italy, Greece and Spain took protest strike action as
did school and college students in many countries around the world. It is very
significant that these protests have taken place both in countries with and
without large Muslim populations.
Currently in both the US and Britain the opinion polls
show an increase in support for the war. In Britain, and to a lesser extent the
US, this reflects patriotic support for the troops and a feeling that now the
war has started it should be finished quickly. Obviously an important factor
within the US is the aftermath of 11 September, particularly because a lengthy
propaganda campaign has succeeded in erroneously convincing many in the US that
Iraq was involved in that attack. But the support for this war remains shallow,
particularly in Britain. Clearly the war on Iraq increases the chances of more
terrorist attacks on the US, Britain, Australia and other countries. These could
increase support for the war, although in Australia, after the Bali bombing,
many blamed the pro-Bush policies of the Howard government for provoking it.
In the US and Britain there are large minorities,
particularly amongst young people, that oppose the war. The development of
events will strengthen the opposition. A lengthy war will mean continually
mounting numbers of dead. This will undermine the support for a war, as will the
huge financial cost. Already Bush has presented a bill for an extra $74.7
billion. This includes $62.6 billion for the war and military, but only $2.4
billion for humanitarian relief and reconstruction. This imbalance is a sure way
of showing the Iraqi people that they are Bush’s first priority! But this is
totally consistent. When the US federal budget for this year was first published
it was discovered that the Bush administration had forgotten to include any
provision for aid to Afghanistan!
A quick overthrow of Saddam would produce a sense of
relief, rather than lasting celebration, within both the US and Britain. This
could, for a short time, boost Bush and Blair. But a continuing guerrilla
conflict in Iraq and the longer-term destabilisation of the Middle East, along
with the mounting domestic economic and social problems, will undermine this.
Within the Middle East, socialists fight to support
Iraq’s struggle against this imperialist invasion and to defend the Iraqi
people. But this is without any illusions in, or support for, the Saddam regime.
The CWI argues that only rule by the workers and poor peasants of the region can
defend democratic rights and break imperialist domination by carrying through
socialist policies, through the creation of a democratic, voluntary and
socialist confederation of Middle eastern states.
The international workers’ movement has a
responsibility to mobilise for action now to stop this war. Thousands are being
killed and injured by this imperialist war. Decisive action now could have a big
effect. Bush and Blair’s propaganda needs to be answered, showing how US and
British imperialism supported Saddam until he "stepped out of line" in
1990 and invaded Kuwait. Bush and Blair’s pious talk about democracy and
liberation can be revealed to be nothing more than a democratic gloss on plans
to demonstrate the dominating might of the US imperialist hyper-power and to
secure control over Iraq’s oil reserves.
Action in countries without military forces involved in
invading Iraq could have an impact in the US, Britain, Australia and Turkey if
the anti-war protests were linked to direct appeals to workers in those
countries. Such appeals to workers would have to answer the pro-war propaganda
of Bush, Blair and Co., and urge them to take action to stop the war.
Such action could also show to working people in the
Middle East that the workers’ movement can offer a real alternative - a
socialist alternative - to the crisis that grips their region. Without such an
alternative there is every likelihood that this imperialist attack will
strengthen Islamic fundamentalism and encourage revenge terrorist attacks.
Action is urgently required now. The school students
and students who have been protesting against the war can play a crucial role in
building these wider movements.
The trade union and political leaders who verbally
declare themselves against this war have the responsibility to act and to
immediately initiate industrial action as a prelude to general strikes against
the war. At the same time, rank and file activists must take every initiative to
build protests that can be examples for others to follow.
CWI members and supporters around the world have
already played an important role in the mobilisations in a number of countries.
We will continue to do so in the struggle against this imperialist war and
simultaneously strive to build a socialist movement against the capitalist
system that produces war, oppression and poverty.
CWI International Secretariat, London