Saddam’s capture will not end Iraq turmoil

CWI Statement

"The killing or capturing of Saddam Hussein will have an impact on the violence, but will not end it," General Sanchez, US military commander in Iraq, New York Times, 7 December 2003.

Saddam’s capture is obviously a psychological boost for US and British imperialism and something they have attempted to exploit to the maximum. A mighty propaganda wave swept over the world, trumpeting this "success", and trying to present it as a fundamental change in Iraq. At the same time, however, serious commentators have been more cautious; warning that Iraqi opposition to occupation will not simply disappear.

The hypocrisy emanating from Washington and London is striking. To this day, US imperialism protects former dictators, like Pinochet in Chile and Suharto in Indonesia, who, when they were in power, were important friends of Washington. If Saddam had not invaded Kuwait in 1990, and had remained in power, he would likely still be an ally of Washington.

However, notwithstanding all the talk of a "turning point" or a "new start" in Iraq, Saddam’s arrest will not resolve the crises facing Iraqi society. The severe problems gripping the country will not disappear and Saddam’s incarceration could well further boost demands that the occupying powers quit Iraq. Now it will not be so easy to accuse those opposing Iraq’s occupation of wishing to bring Saddam back to power.

The immediate boost in Bush’s own popularity is quite unstable and its continuation will depend both on the US economic situation and future developments in Iraq. Blair on the other hand has not really benefited. The failure to find any ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ in Iraq has damaged Blair far more than Bush. In the New Year, Blair faces serious problems with the Hutton enquiry findings and also over government attempts to massively increase charges for studying at university.

The circumstances in which Saddam was found, living in primitive conditions, showed that he was not directing the continuous daily attacks on both the occupying forces and the reconstituted Iraqi police. Many commentators have correctly said that his capture will not end the attacks. This shows that, to a certain extent, Saddam already represented the past before his seizure.

Unlike the leaders of the US, Britain, France and other countries the CWI never supported Saddam and his dictatorial regime. By the time Saddam came to power in a US supported coup in 1979 he already had been instrumental in the murder of many members of the Iraqi Communist Party and trade unionists. Saddam’s first period in office witnessed a bloody purge of the Iraqi left. The CWI has always supported any efforts by Iraqi workers and poor to overthrow Saddam’s brutal dictatorship and to establish their own rule, which is the complete opposite to Bush’s attempts to create a client state.

At different times many regimes and leaders, both inside and outside Iraq, created opportunistic alliances with Saddam. This was not only the case when former US President Ronald Reagan supported Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war; as recently as 1996 the leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party, currently one of Bush and Blair’s allies, appealed to Saddam to send 40,000 troops to help fight against their rivals in the Kurdish Patriotic Union (PUK).

Socialists unreservedly condemned the Saddam regime’s vicious repression of the left, Shi’ites, Kurds and others, at the time it was happening. But we do not join in Bush and Blair’s celebrations today over Saddam’s capture. They are cheering another success for their imperialist aims, not for democratic rights or justice. Bush’s support for democratic rights is only skin-deep. Only a few weeks ago he was congratulating the new President of Azerbaijan, an ally in the "war on terror", on his election as "his security forces were arresting the opposition, and after independent observers had criticised the election" (Financial Times, 27 November 2003).

Like Bin Laden, Saddam, in many ways developed under the sponsorship of the West. While Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda originated as a creation of the West, Saddam in the 1970s moved more and more to a pro-West position. It is not accidental that today pro-Bush and Blair propagandists, like the prominent British historian Michael Burleigh, only mention Saddam’s brutalities from 1991 onwards, after the invasion of Kuwait, and do not mention Saddam’s tyranny during the 1980s. But then, of course, in the 1980s Saddam was the West’s ally, waging war on Iran. He played friendly host to guests like Donald Rumsfeld, today’s US Defence Secretary, who in 1983 met Saddam as President Reagan’s special messenger.

Amongst Iraqis there will be mixed reactions to Saddam’s capture. Some, especially Kurds and Shi’ites, will undoubtedly shed no tears. Others, seeing him as a symbolic fighter that opposed the West, will be bitter at this further success for the occupying powers; a feeling coupled with dismay that Saddam seemingly just surrendered without a fight, unlike his two sons and a 15 year old grandson.

But even amongst those welcoming Saddam’s capture there will be a growing call for the occupation forces to withdraw. After all, Bush’s proclaimed aim was to "decapitate" the old regime. Now, with Saddam in custody, this aim has been achieved. But Bush and co. had other aims, of course; to install a pro-US imperialist regime in Iraq. That is why for US imperialism it is not a question of now letting the Iraqi people democratically decide their own future. Currently, the occupiers have scheduled elections for the end of 2005, after an unelected assembly draws up a constitution.

Resistance will deepen

As it becomes clear to Iraqis that Bush and his gang are determined to shape Iraq as a client state, the resistance will deepen and start to develop a mass character. The US commander in Iraq, General Sanchez, has already admitted that the seizure of Saddam would not end the attacks on the occupiers and their allies.

These attacks are not simply carried out by Saddam loyalists. The German daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung, reported that Allied secret services have identified 15 different armed groups with diverse ideological, regional or religious origins but all sharing "anti-American" sentiments (16 December 2003). Their strength is hard to judge, but in November the CIA estimated that there were 50,000 insurgents operating against the occupying forces.

The former Conservative British Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, has written: "Most of these insurgents are Iraqis resentful of the American occupation of their country. Others are Arabs or Islamic extremists from other countries who have moved into Iraq, seeing it as an opportunity to wage jihad against the west. These elements will have no incentive to end their violence." (Guardian, London, 15 December 2003). One irony of this situation is that before the war Bush falsely claimed that Iraq was one of al-Qaeda’s bases. That was not true, but since the war al-Qaeda has begun operating in Iraq and now, after Saddam’s capture, Islamic groupings like al-Qaeda will claim that they are the most resolute fighters against occupation.

The US is now on the horns of a dilemma. It was much easier to invade Iraq than it will be to withdraw. With the next US Presidential election looming in less than 11 months Bush wants out of Iraq as soon as possible, but cannot risk leaving chaos behind. That could destabilise the entire region, which is a major source of the world’s oil resources.

This is the background to the US’s recent change of policy and its attempt to accelerate a handover of power to what they would see as "safe hands". But the dilemma Bush faces is who to hand power over to? The different political, ethnic and religious factions can barely agree. Even Bush’s own administration is divided. The Pentagon sponsors the banker Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress; the State Department supports the Iraqi Independent Democrats of the pre-1968 Iraqi Foreign Minister Pachachi; while the CIA backs the Iraqi National Accord led by Alawi, a businessman.

The US government’s attempts to install a puppet regime are overshadowed by widespread Iraqi opposition to foreign occupation, particularly against the US, the closest ally of the Israeli government. Rifkind commented that: "Now that threat [of Saddam] has finally disappeared, Iraqis will be less persuaded than ever that they need American tutelage in order to educate them how to govern themselves … However delighted they might be to be relieved of Saddam’s tyranny, they feel humiliated by foreign occupation, and they should not be expected to be any less anti-American than the rest of the Arab world. If the Americans ignore these sensitivities then the insurgents, with Saddam out of the way, will seem even more like freedom fighters to ordinary Iraqis."

The US military’s brutal methods in Iraq, including the re-introduction of aerial bombing of civilian areas as their answer to terror attacks, have only served to deepen opposition. Likewise, the economic and social crisis gripping the country – a situation made worse by the occupiers’ neo-liberal policies – has created despair and anger against what is correctly seen as the occupiers opening up Iraq to naked exploitation by the predominately US owned multinationals.

The strengthening Iraqi opposition to foreign occupation is the background to 300 of the 700 members of the newly created First Battalion of the new Iraqi Army either deserting or being discharged after protesting at their pay and conditions. Even if the US succeeds in rebuilding the Iraqi Army it could never be certain of the loyalty or reliability of the soldiers.

The most recent opinion poll in Iraq illustrates the depth of the Iraqi peoples’ anger. 57% did not trust the US and British occupation forces "at all" and a further 22% did not trust them "very much". 43% did not trust the US appointed Provisional Authority "at all" and 30% "not very much". The United Nations was, after years of running sanctions in Iraq that led to many deaths, also not "at all" trusted by 37% and "not very much" by 28% (Guardian, London, 13 December 2003). It was the religious leaders who had the greatest trust and this is why the US is trying to find ways to involve them, and religious groups, in a puppet regime. But, given the deep divisions and rivalries between these forces, this US policy is fraught with problems.

In many countries, including both the US and Britain, there are calls from capitalist politicians and strategists for Bush to change course and let the United Nations attempt to defuse the Iraqi situation by taking over more control of the occupation. These proposals are partly linked to the continuing tensions and differences between the main imperialist powers over whether the war was the best course of action. It also reflects imperialist rivalries in the Middle East. But, in a situation of rising Iraqi opposition to US occupation, there could be an attempt to bring the UN in, possibly to work alongside some kind of nominal Iraqi administration.

Opinion polls in Iraq show large-scale doubts about the UN, understandable given its record in enforcing the sanctions that so badly hurt the Iraqi people. Any hopes that do exist in the UN are misplaced. The only big change UN control would bring would be that instead of the occupation being dominated by one power, the US, decisions would be made collectively by the leading imperialist powers running the UN Security Council, along with Germany and Japan. Socialists argue that the real alternative to US occupation is the withdrawal of all foreign armies and the right of the Iraqi people to decide their own future.

Throughout the Middle East there are mixed reactions to Saddam’s capture. The New York Times correctly commented: "While the Arab public harbours no particular love for the deposed dictator or other oppressive governments in the region that were similar to his, it despairs that an outside power can humiliate the Arab world by capturing such a significant figure with relative impunity, underscoring the masses’ powerlessness" (15 December 2003). As Saddam was seen by many Palestinians as one of the few Arab leaders who "stood up" to imperialism during the 1990s, some will feel disheartened that he was captured without a fight.

Within the US there is much talk about Saddam’s arrest forming the basis upon which Bush can win re-election next year. However, the elections are still eleven months away and continued US casualties could well undermine Bush’s support, let alone any dramatic weakening in the fragile US economy. Indeed, Saddam’s capture will fuel the growing demands for the withdrawal of the troops. Charley Richardson, a co-founder of ‘Military Families Speak Out’ and whose son is a marine who served in Iraq, said that Saddam’s seizure, "Removes the last excuse that the Bush administration has being using to continue the occupation. It will bring to a head the question of why we are in Iraq".

Within Iraq there will be demands by many for a quick open trial of Saddam. But it is not at all certain whether this will happen and, if a trial takes place it could well be a rushed affair to try to limit its scope. Significantly, when discussing possible charges that Saddam might face, many Western commentators brush over the eight year war – and alleged war crimes – that the former dictator launched, with Western support, against Iran in 1980. They instead concentrate on his oppression within Iraq and the invasion of Kuwait. As a former British Air Marshal, Sir Timothy Garden, coyly explained, "Certain elements of the US/Iraq relationship during the 1980s might be embarrassing if revealed in open court." (London Evening Standard, 15 December 2003).

A real settlement of accounts with Saddam can only be carried out by a trial run by representatives of the Iraqi workers and poor that investigates all aspects of Saddam’s regime, including which powers, inside and outside Iraq, supported him during his 24 years of rule. Although, of course, it is doubtful whether someone like Donald Rumsfeld would honestly testify over what he discussed with Saddam in 1983!

This settling of accounts with Saddam’s regime can only be successfully completed if it is part of the struggle to end the occupation, and imperialist control, of Iraq. To achieve this goal the key task is the building of an independent workers’ movement that has support amongst the urban and rural poor.

Internationally support has to be given to those activists seeking to build workers’ organisations, and especially those who oppose the occupation and fight for democratic rights for all, including for women and for all nationalities and religions.

Within such organisations socialists would campaign for a programme based upon the following main points:

  • Immediate withdrawal of all foreign occupying forces. Removal of the US appointed Governing Council.
  • Immediate formation of democratic popular bodies at all levels to take over the running of Iraqi society. Convening of a national assembly of democratically elected delegates to appoint a government representing the Iraqi workers and poor peasants.
  • Democratically controlled multi-ethnic militias to provide security for working people.
  • Defence of democratic rights and protection for women, different nationalities, and all ethnic and religious groupings. Right of self-determination for all the peoples in Iraq.
  • An end to censorship.
  • Full rights for trade unions and workers’ organisations.
  • Reversal of all privatisations and neo-liberal measures imposed by the occupation powers. Cancellation of Iraq’s foreign debt. Implementation of workers’ control and management in all nationalised industries, to stamp out corruption and looting and to ensure that the economy is run in the interests of the Iraqi people. Preparation of an economic plan to utilise Iraq’s economic resources to rebuild the country in the interests of the Iraqi people.
  • For a democratic socialist Iraq, and a socialist federation of the Middle East.
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