Saddam's capture: the USA scores a point

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The once all-powerful dictator reduced to a haggard tramp who didn't even try to defend himself when he was caught, humiliated by filmed medical examinations and soon to be put on a very public trial: these images, broadcast all around the world, aren't neutral. They have been carefully set up and selected by the Bush administration.

The message is clear: the USA has done what it set out to do; it has made a prisoner out of one of the bloodiest tyrants on the planet. Bush and co. have scored a point in the war against terrorism. Didn't Bush himself say in September that "Iraq is the central front in the war against terrorism"? This coup has come at such an opportune moment for the US that we are entitled to ask whether or not the moment to close in on Saddam was itself carefully chosen by the occupying power.

At the point that Saddam fell into the hands of the US, it had been becoming more and more evident that the US army was stuck in a quagmire in Iraq, completely unable to stabilise the situation. Not a day passed without a terrorist attack on the coalition forces. The attacks had even spread beyond Iraq, to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and so on. The US had been obliged to alter its attitude towards its main imperialist rivals, in particular Germany, France and Russia. This is why they sent Colin Powell to negotiate with these powers about assisting the US to substantially disengage from Iraq before November 2004. Even a 'hawk' like Rumsfeld has publicly supported this idea - the decision is supposed to be taken in June 2004 at the NATO summit in Istanbul next June. Countries like France, Germany and Belgium did not openly come out against this US request; in fact they were quick to say that "was something presented as an idea to think about". Meanwhile at the NATO summit in Brussels, the bargaining came out into the open: German, French and Belgian forces would take part in the Iraq operation if the US accepted the creation of independent European structures within NATO. The announcement that France, Germany, Russia and Canada would not be allowed to bid for contracts in the 'reconstruction' of Iraq could not hide the fact that the USA was losing the initiative in the global inter-imperialist conflict.

The capture of Saddam, however, enabled Bush to savour some revenge. It will certainly give a boost to the 'hard line' position of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. As the former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrines put it, "with this capture, the Americans have recovered political authority and legitimacy". It will also allow the US to regain the initiative at the diplomatic level. The Bush administration is for the moment in a more favourable position to push countries like France to accept a freeze or moratorium on Iraqi debt. It will also help to improve the international image of the American-backed interim Iraqi government. In Europe, countries like Spain and Poland, which have been accused of sabotaging the accord on the European constitution, will also benefit along with other countries like Britain and Italy that participated in the war. For the moment, the French-German couple has been weakened. This arrest has really come as the perfect Christmas present for the USA.

The USA's position has also been greatly strengthened by the almost simultaneous announcement that Libya has agreed to give up its own 'weapons of mass destruction' - in effect, to return to some degree of international respectability. Britain's defence secretary Geoff Hoon immediately touted this new deal as proof of the correctness of the war-like approach to Iraq: "We showed, after Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate with the UN, that we meant business and Libya - and I hope other countries - will draw that lesson" (Guardian, 22.12.03). In Iraq, as elsewhere, capitalism can only lead humanity into barbarism

However, we didn't have to wait long before there were new terrorist attacks in Iraq - in fact they came the day after Saddam's arrest was announced. Whoever carried them out, they prove that nothing has been resolved. The rivalries between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, brought to the surface by the collapse of the Saddam regime and sharpened by the US occupation, can only worsen in the future. The Iraqi population will also benefit very little from the much-heralded 'reconstruction' This will largely be limited to state and transport infrastructures and the restoration of order in the oil fields - all of which obeys the needs of imperialist strategy or state repression and has nothing to do with ensuring the welfare of the population. Despite the momentary strengthening of the USA, the perspective in Iraq, just as in Afghanistan, is one of chaos, misery and desolation.

As for the current reinforcement of the US position, the capture of Saddam is a double-edged sword: as the chaos continues to spread, it will no longer be possible to put it all down to Saddam working in the shadows Indeed it will be even more obvious that the principal factor of destabilisation is the US intervention itself, and this will no doubt be exploited to the full by the USA's main rivals. In any case, whatever form the future American military presence in Iraq may take, whatever the degree of involvement of the European powers, the tensions between the USA and its European rivals in the region can only dramatically increase.

Revolutionaries have to denounce all the hypocritical speeches that claim that stability and peace are possible in this society. If the working class is not yet in a position to prevent the development of wars and barbarism across the world, it is still the only force that can prevent this barbarism reaching its ultimate conclusion - the destruction of humanity.

Bird, 20/12/03.

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