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Motion passed at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.
1. The situation in Iraq three years after the invasion and overthrow of Saddam is one of chaos and instability within which none of the contending forces (the occupying powers, the Sunni-Baathist insurgency, the Shia and Kurdish parties, the labour movement) is strong enough to impose its will on the others.
This stalemate is reflected in: * the continuing inability of the parties elected in December 2005 to form a government representative of all sections of the Iraqi people; * the inability of the US and its allies to defeat the insurgency or even to find reliable allies with mass popular support; * the inability of the ‘resistance’ to force the occupation out; * the possibility of a civil war, in which any effective central authority would cease to exist.
2. This situation is far messier and has not resulted in any of the more clear cut scenarios we foresaw.
Our 2003 AGM document stated: "Out of this US/Iraq war could develop a political quagmire which would open up a whole new chapter in the history of imperialism. After an initial success against Saddam Hussein, the USA could get drawn into trying to impose effective (if not formal) colonial rule on Iraq, by way of heavy involvement by the US military to suppress mass popular resistance to a replacement regime which lacks a domestic political base and becomes in effect just a puppet government." Our 2004 document stated: "31. The US would certainly like to find some way to hand over authority to Iraqis, and (gradually) withdraw its military forces. This looks harder in practice. The possibility remains that the US and its UK allies could get bogged down in Iraq for a long time; or they might look to some other, non-democratic way to hand over ‘authority’ (e.g. covertly sponsoring a coup of some kind through which a general takes power who is able to appear as not simply US-imposed but can be guaranteed to work within rules acceptable to the USA).
32. Or perhaps they will manage the transition successfully.
There are historical precedents for American-dominated military occupation leading to the creation of functioning, prosperous bourgeois democracies - Europe and Japan after the Second World War... The parallels are limited: there was nothing comparable to the Iraqi ‘resistance’ in the post-war period; the scale of the devastation - and of the economies which had suffered it - was far greater." While there is certainly a quagmire, things have turned out differently. Elements of both these scenarios have come about – there have been significant steps towards bourgeois democracy through elections, as we recognised in 2005, yet no stable state has emerged. While there are no obvious candidates for a puppet government and there is no indication that the US wants or is able to impose direct colonial rule, the occupiers still exercise an effective veto over developments. These two elements – an elected government that does not represent US interests and the continuing power of the occupation – are in tension and potentially serious conflict, though it may be in the interests of both to negotiate a modus vivendi. The nihilistic ‘resistance’ does not represent a viable (let alone desirable) political alternative.
We have neither full self-determination and democracy, on the one hand, nor a US-imposed regime, on the other. Nor is it likely that either of these alternatives will come about in the near future. The most likely course is a continuation of the present chaos with the prospect of development into civil war.
Sectarian tension is increasing in Iraq. The development of that sectarian tension into full-scale civil war would mean not only the almost certain destruction of the labour movement and any democratic organisation, but also the bloody tearing-apart of Iraq into statelets controlled by political Islamists or the Kurdish warlord parties. A positive development has been the creation of community self-defence militias aimed against sectarian violence in some areas. This would have to be on a massively larger scale to counter the trend towards civil war.
3. For Iraqis who were initially happy with the overthrow of Saddam and hoped this would lead to something better, the occupation has brought the senseless brutality and slaughter of civilians, the economic looting by US rulers, the arrogance, the casual deployment of lethal firepower, arbitrary arrests and torture, and a failure to make good the damage of the war so that many of the basic necessities of life, such as a reliable power supply still do not exist.
There is therefore a bitterness and disillusionment with the results of the occupation even amongst those not politically sympathetic to the ‘resistance’. Recent opinion polls1 show between 70-80% of Iraqis favouring withdrawal, with a broadly equal proportion favouring a deadline of six months and of two years (though the proportions of Shia, Kurds and Sunni differ radically). 76% believe the US would not withdraw if asked.
In the face of mounting losses and the growing unpopularity of the war in the US, there is emerging among sections of the US ruling class who supported the war a willingness to consider a ‘cut and run’ withdrawal from Iraq. While this not an immediate prospect – and would mark a political defeat on the scale of Vietnam – the US desire to minimise its own casualties is already leading to an abandonment of parts of the country. A sudden scuttling by the USA would tip the country into a fullscale civil war. But the USA’s current course leads more slowly to the same conclusion.
In Solidarity 3/80, the article "Iraq: Has The Time Come For "Troops Out Now"? noted: " Should socialists therefore adopt the call for immediate US-British withdrawal, on the grounds that catastrophe is almost certain and delaying withdrawal will only worsen it?
The case for that gets stronger by the day. The occupying forces were always an element in the chaos, as well as a "promise" that they might set a framework in which a bourgeois-democratic government with enough support to survive could emerge as an alternative to the chaos. More and more now, they are only a component of the chaos...
The sober truth needs to be clearly recognised that the trend of events is away from any benign scenario for Iraq’s future. "The occupation has thus not been a force standing apart from a descent into chaos created purely by intra-Iraqi conflicts set loose by the overthrow of Saddam. The US and UK do not just ‘hold the ring’. Their policies and actions have played a major (though not the only) role in creating a situation that may lead to civil war. They have acted as recruiting agents for the ‘resistance’.
4. The situation has degenerated beyond the point where a ‘benign’ scenario (which has been unlikely since the end of the invasion) is on the cards. Almost all the likely scenarios in Iraq, based on current trends, are unfavourable for the labour movement.
Even if the occupation forces succeed in stabilising the fragile state structure, those left in control are unlikely to show sympathy for labour and democratic movements. The electoral majority is held by Shi’ite Islamists who are responsible for the Decree 875 of August 2005, in principle establishing full government control over all trade-union funds, and for the introduction of a constitution which deletes the right to strike stipulated, at least in principle, in the Transitional Administrative Law.
The forces that could create a more positive outcome – above all, the labour movement – are not at present strong enough to be effective in changing this situation. For that to become a possibility, the Iraqi labour movement must survive and develop, organisationally and politically. It has since 2003 been able to benefit from the openings created by the overthrow of Saddam. This ‘breathing space’ is a contingent result of the invasion and the lack of a stable regime, on the one hand, and its own weakness, on the other. It is currently on the defensive, marginalised by, on the one hand, the rise to power of the Shi’ite Islamists (in uneasy alliance with the US/ UK occupation forces); on the other the sectarian conflict.
5. AWL was against the war. We offer no support to the American, British, or any ruling class, their states, their politicians, or their armies. We analyse the motives of the American, British and other ruling classes in their dealings with Iraq; solidarise with the new Iraqi labour movement wherever it clashes with the occupiers; indict US/UK misdeeds unsparingly; say to those Iraqi socialists whom we can reach and to people in Britain that they cannot rely on the US and UK to bring democracy. We long ago, before the war, pointed out that the occupation of Iraq would not curb Islamist terrorism.
We say that the peoples of Iraq must have self determination. Self-determination and the ending of the occupation is a precondition for consistent democracy in Iraq.
We maintain a stance of hostility to the troops and we do not call on the British and Americans to stay.
6. Our programme for Iraq remains as spelled out in our March 2005 pamphlet: Solidarity with the Iraqi workers’ movement Against the US/UK occupation of Iraq Against the Islamist/ ex-Ba’thist militias For a secular democratic republic Full civil rights for all, including equality for women Self-determination for the Kurds and rights for minorities For a workers’ government in Iraq.
7. Our practical activity in Britain on the question of Iraq should focus round building Iraq Union Solidarity.