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Iraq: resistance grows to occupation

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The death of six British soldiers near Al-Amarah at the end of June represents a key deepening of the resistance to the US and UK occupation of Iraq. Almost all the attacks in the previous ten weeks since the war was officially described as over have been in the so-called “Sunni triangle” north-west of Baghdad.

These incidents were portrayed by Washington and London as nothing more than the work of a bunch of “deadenders” – fanatics loyal to the old Saddam regime.

But the fierce organised attack on the six military police and earlier the same day on a Paratroop regiment patrol in the town of Majar al-Kabir took place deep into Shia southern Iraq. These Shia Muslims, long oppressed by Saddam's Sunni regime, welcomed the invasion by the US and British forces to oust the bloody dictator.

The fact is that the nearly 30 US combat deaths and the largest single-incident number of British fatalities since the 1991 Gulf War prove that geographical scope and military effectiveness of the Iraqi resistance is growing.

The reasons for this are not hard to fathom: daily acts of repression by the occupying forces, a continuing lack of democracy and a deteriorating economic and social situation for most Iraqis. This is a combustible mixture exploding in the faces of the soldiers.

The most widely reported repression has been the work of US troops in the Sunni areas north of Baghdad. In Fallujah, US soldiers killed 18 protesters soon after occupying it. A series of operations, such as Desert Scorpion involve searching villages, making arrests and confiscating weapons.

This has resulted in arbitrary detentions, public beatings, stealing of money (so it cannot be used to buy arms, it is claimed), violation of children and women’s domestic areas and even bulldozing of homes of families of men “suspected’ of being involved in resistance to the occupation.

As a result, and as in Vietnam and Malaysia in earlier brutal imperialist “search and destroy” missions, the broad population is turning against the occupying forces, disinclined to give intelligence to the US and British forces that could help them locate the organised resistance and even start joining the ranks of the resistance.

And there are potentially thousands of Iraqis willing to sign up given the appalling social and economic situation. The near anarchy that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the downfall of the Saddam regime made ordinary Iraqis fear for their homes and lives – a situation directly brought about by utter contempt shown the population by the occupiers who only wished to secure oil fields and Presidential palaces and leave the rest of society to fend for itself.

In Baghdad at the end of June there was still no electricity in much of the city. Generating capacity is half its pre-war level. There no functioning banks to deposit your money in. The US-run administration in Iraq has collapsed the Ba’athist bureaucracy without putting anything remotely efficient or resourced in its place.

After the 1991 Gulf War the regime got the country up and running again after 40 days. The destruction to the country’s infrastructure was far higher then than now. The problem is not a technical one but a social and political one. The US administration is not concerned in implementing an emergency plan to meets the desperate needs of the Iraqi people, but rather laying down the foundations for a free market, US friendly capitalist economy and civil society.

So the 23 government ministries have no real power and no money except that given by the CPA to pay for wages. The CPA meanwhile has distributed $2.4bn of US Congress allocated money – overwhelmingly to US companies. Bt they are slow and reluctant to take up the opportunities because the collapse of the Iraqi state has mean that the “right climate” for setting up business is very slow to emerge.

This debacle claimed the head of the first US appointed Viceroy of Iraq –retired general Jay Garner. He was replaced by Paul Bremer as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), a former US diplomat who whose men impact has been to sack 30,000 Ba’ath party officials followed by 400,000 members of Saddam’s army and leave them and their families destitute and angry.

He has declared war on the overwhelmingly state-owned economy and ushered in dozens of US multinationals to privatise it. He has overnight liberalised imports thereby destroying Iraqi small businesses that were able to survive ten years of sanctions.

These measures have created mass unemployment, hunger and resentment in equal measure. – Before the war and occupation 60 per cent of the population depended upon the Iraqi state to supply them with food rations. Now this figure is higher.

Wars, including civil wars, create hardship and dislocation. These may have been temporarily worth it as the price of getting rid of Saddam Hussein if the Iraqi people were in control of their own destiny. But they are not. They are pawns on the chessboard of imperialist diplomacy.

The initial rhetoric after the fall of Saddam Hussein was that a representative Iraqi government would be created within two months to take over the running of the country. Of course, what they meant was that the Pentagon trained cabal of Iraqi exiles like Chabani would slip back into the country and take over the symbols of office while leaving the levers of power firmly in the hands of US “advisers” and the deeds to Iraq’s resources in the vaults of US banks.

But a handful of assassinations of such quislings in May, the rise of the uncooperative Shia clerics in Iraq, the first abortive national gatherings of the native clan leaders and exile politicians, and – above all – the emergence of an growing guerrilla resistance to the occupiers, forced a re-think in Washington.

The plan to hand over power to a democratic govrnment of Iraqis was shelved indefinitely. Worse, the right to protest on the streets was brutally negated by shooting the demonstrators. Bremer followed this up by making it illegal to propose in public that the US occupation was wrong and should be opposed. Most recently he has imposed censorship over the emerging Iraqi “free” press.

Bremer is bound by a UN resolution adopted in May to set up an interim Iraqi administration made up of 25-30 Iraqis chosen by Bremer himself!

Naturally, political parties in the new Iraq will have to be vetted and approved before they can stand in any future elections. And as for that cornerstone of a vibrant civil society – independent trade unions to safeguard and represent the interest of the mass of Iraqi workers – we can be fairly confident of their future by looking at the fiercely anti-union record of the bulk of US multinationals that Bremer has chosen to plunder Iraq’s resources.

Bremer has made it clear that elections are a long way off. It will have to wait until a constitution is drawn up and approved. But drawing up a constitution for Iraq was far too important a task to be left in the hands of the Iraqis themselves. So the US will do it. They will organise a constitutional conference in July (“invite only”) that would begin the work of drawing up a new constitution – a process that could take years.

By embedding the virtues of a free market economy, globalisation, foreign investment, fiscal probity into the legal code Washington hopes to ensure the CPA will eventually be followed by an oil-rich government in Baghdad which promptly signs a series of treaties with Washington allowing the USA the right of permanent access to the country’s airbases and airspace.

In the short term resistance is destined to grow. As one senior CPA official quoted in the Financial Times says: “The situation on the ground is definitely moving faster than we are. The situation the British faced in 1920, where momentum towards independence became unstoppable, is repeating itself.”

But the decisive questions are what form will this resistance take and with what tempo of development?

To date small organised groups exist armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. They are probably units which deliberately melted away rather than fight when the US/UK invasion forces arrived. They have a rudimentary command system and their hit and run tactics are capable of some small-scale successes against patrols.

In addition groups of ordinary Iraqis – many armed for years – can spontaneously rise up and take revenge on poorly armed and isolated units such as occurred when the six military police were killed.

But Iraq is not Vietnam and it would be very difficult for a guerrilla force to entrench itself in secure territorial basis, enlarging the sphere and scale of its operations. With greater intelligence the occupying forces could destroy its command structures.

In addition, the longer the CPA stays in place, the more it can rebuild a relatively loyal and trained army and state bureaucracy. Eventually, too, the basic infrastructure will be restored even if it is owned by US MNCs.

But the reconstruction of Iraq is also the reconstruction of the Iraqi working class which will recompose as investment comes in and services rebuilt. The future of the Iraqi resistance has to be one in which this working class rediscovers its self-organisation and class consciousness.

It needs – with the help of the trade unions of Europe especially – to rebuild its independent workplace organisations. They must import – along with Burger King and MacDonalds – ready-made US loyal bureaucratic prison-houses courtesy of the AFL-CIO, primed with state department money and headed up by corrupt pro-IMF officials.

The vanguard of the west’ trade union movement must start now to send delegations and offer money to help build class struggle trade unions committed to fighting privatisation, corporate globalisation and of course, the military occupation.

Straightaway solidarity groups and local Iraqi should build mass, legal demonstrations for unemployment benefits, payment of back wages, trade union rights and a programme of public works under the control of local communities.

If this is not done swiftly, then two things will happen. First, official bureaucratic structures will be imposed on the working class as part of the top-down CPA reconstruction of Iraqi civil society; secondly, the influence of the mosques’ leaders will spread among the population as they are seen as the only alternative to the CPA and its exile or local stooges.

Already the armed Islamic groups loyal to the clerics control 50 per cent of all hospitals; the mosque is a trusted centre of anti-looting vigilante groups which draw support from frightened citizens. A secular, democratic alternative force is urgently needed, one that is mass, visible and capable of getting results out of the CPA.

Such a force must become a political force – leading the fight to expel the occupying troops and the band of 600 CPA officials. It can and must popularise the demand for a revolutionary constituent assembly, convened by delegates elected in all the towns and villages.

Forming local assemblies now – open to all of working age and women – in each area to debate the current crisis is the best safeguard against the imposition of the Bremer/UN “interim administration”, and capable of contesting its authority on the ground should it ever be pt together.

• UK/US troops out of Iraq now
• No UN or foreign troops in Iraq
• Down with the CPA and any “Iraqi interim administration”
• For a revolutionary Constituent Assembly to decide on the country’s constitution
• For the right to form independent trade unions and political parties; no to press censorship
• For a programme of emergency public works under the control of the Iraqi locally elected popular committees.