It’s now more than two years since the US army took control of Baghdad, and George Bush came out with the cynical victory cry: “mission accomplished”. A bright future was promised: the world would be a safer place and Iraq would become a stable democracy. Reality is elsewhere. Iraq is sinking deeper and deeper into chaos and barbarism.
Massacre upon massacre
The US military intervention opened a real Pandora’s box. The situation has got worse and worse, becoming more and more uncontrollable and explosive. There is a now a pitiless war between Sunnis and Shias, a murderous spiral of hatred and terror. Armed repression, suicide attacks, pogroms, summary executions follow each other day after day.
On Saturday 10 September, the US army and the Iraqi security forces carried out a major offensive against the rebel bastion of Tel Afar in the north of Iraq, close to the Syrian frontier. The official death toll was 160. But far from controlling the Sunni uprising, this attack by the US and Iraqi governments only fanned the flames. The Iraqi branch of Al-Qaida immediately called for revenge, and there has been a new wave of terrorist attacks since then. On Wednesday 14 September alone there were 11 attacks and nearly 150 killed. The most bloody of these was carried out in a Baghdad square where workers were gathering in the hope of finding work for the day in the building trade. 140 were killed. More recently, on 26 September, five Shia teachers and a school bus driver in a mainly Sunni village south of Baghdad were taken away from their pupils and shot dead. Up till now, attacks on schools have been extremely rare.
The warlords of Iraq have imposed a true reign of terror! The working class and the poorest layers of the population are clearly the first victims of all these atrocities. A few hours after the massacre of the Shia building workers, there was a revenge operation in which armed men opened fire on Sunnis gathered at a market. Two days after the attack on the marketplace, a queue of Shia workers waiting for payment were raked by machine gun fire. The day after that, a bomb went off at the market in Nahrawan, killing another 30 people. The list goes on and on. This reign of blind revenge is a symbol of society in full decomposition.
The frightful panic which led to the death of a thousand people on 31 August during a Shia procession in Baghdad shows the degree to which the population lives in a state of terror. A million and a half people were converging on the Kadhimiya mosque; unable to assure their safety, the American and Iraqi military forces closed all the bridges over the Tigris, except one, in order to concentrate the population on one single route. The pilgrims were thus already being packed together when a rumour spread about suicide bombers being in the crowd. A true collective hysteria ensued. Hundreds of people were crushed or drowned in the stampede.
The proposed new constitution is accelerating chaos
On 15 October, Iraqi electors will be called upon to vote “for or against” the new constitution. This referendum is supposed to be a demonstration of national unity. Those responsible for the new text have hidden behind a few superficial declarations, while George Bush has spoken of the dawn of a “period of hope”.
But reality is giving the lie to this phoney optimism. The new constitution will not only not put an end to the prevailing chaos; it will exacerbate rivalries more than ever. Iraqi president Talabani has himself recognised that “Iraq is not on the edge of civil war, it’s already in the middle of it”.
The text is essentially the result of a compromise between Shias and Kurds who dominate the Assembly and the government. Thus the Sunni bourgeoisie can only violent reject the proposed constitution, which symbolises its loss of power.
And the Shias themselves are divided over the adoption of this text. These differences have led to actual armed clashes between different Shia cliques. On Wednesday 25 August, there were violent confrontations between fighters loyal to the radical Imam Moqtada Al-Sadr and the rival Shia militia, the Badr brigade, in Najaf. Al-Sadr is taking advantage of the debate over the constitution to make a comeback and try to redistribute the cards in his favour.
Thus the real alternative put forward by the referendum on 15 October is this: more chaos, or more chaos? If the new constitution is adopted, the Sunni warlords and part of the Shia warlords will unleash even more blood and fire as they feel power slipping away from them. If the No wins it, which is most likely, the Kurds and the Shias in power will probably be tempted to proclaim their autonomy, leading to the break up of the Iraqi state.
Instability and war radiate across the Middle East
This uncontrollable war which is bit by bit dismembering Iraq is about to radiate across the whole surrounding region.
First of all Turkey is getting very nervous about the autonomist ambitions of the Iraqi Kurds. It knows very well that this situation, pregnant with instability for the whole of Kurdistan, could put the unity of its own state in danger. This is why throughout the summer there have been real tensions within the Turkish bourgeoisie, between those who stand for the ‘soft’ method, for more ‘democracy’, and those who stand for the ‘hard’ method, calling for new laws to deal with ‘terrorism’.
At the same time the chaotic situation in Iraq reveals the growing impotence of the USA. Despite repeated demonstrations of military power, the world’s leading power is incapable of making up for the historic weakening of its leadership. The catastrophic situation of the American army in the region is thus sharpening the imperialist appetites of all the neighbouring countries. Syria, with its frontier on the Sunni region, is secretly fuelling the rebellion with men and arms. And Iran is more and more openly interfering in Iraqi affairs.
Faced with this loss of control, the USA can only respond with increasing brutality. We have seen a growing number of bellicose declarations against Syria, which is accused of fomenting terrorism, and against Iran, above all over the issue of its nuclear programme. In the same way the display of force by the US army against the rebel stronghold of Tel Afar has opened the door to new rounds of massive destruction.
The whole of the Middle East is threatened by war and chaos. A picture of this region would not be complete without a brief description of the terrible situation in the Gaza strip. Following the withdrawal of the Jewish settlers, the Israeli state is in the process of building a new ‘hi-tech’ wall on its side, while Egypt has closed its border with a line of barbed wire and machine gun posts. Between these walls, in this ghetto, the population goes hungry and suffers from the double yoke of the Palestinian police and the Islamist militias. And despite the fact that one of them, Hamas, declared on 26 September that it would keep to the ceasefire with Israel, within a few hours of this statement Israeli jets had launched attacks on militia sites in Gaza. New revenge attacks and suicide bombings are guaranteed to follow.
Towards the dismemberment of Iraq?
The perspective is not peace but growing barbarism. At stake now is the very unity of Iraq. Kurdistan, the Sunni and Shia regions are heading towards a break-up of the country, and for all its military power the USA cannot stop this process. And the effects of this will be felt throughout the Middle East.
Capitalism is a moribund system that is soaking the planet in mud and blood. The proletariat must put an end to it before it plunges the whole of humanity into out-and-out barbarism.