Iraq: USA powerless to prevent spread of chaos
Five years after the USA, assisted by Britain and a few other countries, successfully invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam in only three weeks, nothing is going according to plan. Of course we can read about an improvement in the security situation following the troop surge, about the ‘Sahwa' or Awakening in which Sunni forces in Anbar are being turned against al-Qaida - provided they are supplied with weapons that they can use for whatever purpose in the future. But events on the ground have well and truly drowned out any celebration of the original victory.
The USA remains mired in Iraq, and their overall commander, General Petraeus, has persuaded the politicians that troop levels should remain at 130,000 rather than be cut by the end of the year. So much for the success of the surge. Britain has similarly shelved plans to cut its troops.
At the beginning of March President Ahmadinejad's visit to Iraq made Iran the first regional power to make a state visit since the US invasion in 2003. He came offering $1 billion in loans, as well as trade, and calls for the US to leave. Such a diplomatic advantage going to a leader of the ‘axis of evil' adds further evidence that all is not well for the Coalition forces.
At the end of the month the push by Iraqi President Al-Maliki against the Mahdi army, with US and British air support, ended in humiliating failure. Many of his own police and security forces refused to fight or even sided with Sadr, who was able to announce a ‘cease-fire' on his own terms. This event has given rise to claim and counter-claim. What is clear is that this push against criminal gangs was aimed at Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army in Basra, which launched counter-offensives in Baghdad and elsewhere; and that despite al-Maliki's claims he would fight to the end the Iraqi administration was forced into some kind of negotiation in which Iran played a part.
US Ambassador Crocker claimed this showed the growing confidence of the Iraqi government "... in terms of decision, resolve and ability, they did it themselves and they got in the fight" (BBC news online). John McCain was much clearer "Maliki decided to take on this operation without consulting the Americans... I am surprised he would take it on himself" (The Times 1.4.08). In other words this also shows the limits of US control of its puppet democracy.
Opportunity for USA's rivals
Nor should we see this as simply an Iranian victory. It is true that it has supplied some of the Mahdi army weapons, but Iran has much closer links to some of the militia who are less independent of the government, such as the Badr Brigades. Nevertheless, when the USA toppled Iraq this was of great interest to Iran. The neighbours were rival regional powers, each effectively cancelling out the other's ambitions. When the pro-western Shah was toppled, leaving the country in the hands of much less reliable Mullahs, the US used Iraq, under their ally Saddam Hussein, in a war lasting through the 1980s to weaken Iran. That was before the collapse of the USSR when the world was divided between US and Russian imperialist blocs, two fairly stable alliances lined up against each other, and America was simply defending its dominance in the area. When first the Warsaw Pact and then the USSR itself collapsed the USA was left as the only superpower, but its allies and clients in the ‘west' no longer needed its protection against the opposing bloc, and had to be convinced that there was a good reason not to go all out for their own interests even against America. That reason was Washington's enormous military superiority. Iraq now had a new use - as an American whipping boy to impose its authority over its allies and display its terrifying fire-power in the first Gulf war in 1991 and again in 2003.
In order to maintain its position the USA has been constrained to engage in repeated military adventures, and has needed to gain overwhelming victories, for as soon as it shows weakness other powers can see an opportunity to challenge its hegemony. Iran is a good example here: with the US bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tehran has the opportunity not just to arm rebel gangs in Iraq, or gain a minor diplomatic victory, but also to pursue its dream of obtaining nuclear weapons and rivalling Israel as a Middle Eastern power.
And there are far bigger fish involved. At the time of the first Gulf War under Bush Senior no-one dared to oppose the action, and powers such as Germany and Japan were made to pay for a war effort that was also aimed at warning them not to challenge America. By 2003 Germany and France were confident enough to oppose the second Gulf War openly. More recently there has been friction between the occupying powers in Afghanistan over the strategy to follow: the British trying to "reconcile" Taliban fighters as in Musa Qala, while the Americans "just want to kill them" (The Times 2.4.08).
All this manoeuvring, by both the US and its rivals, increases instability. In Iraq it is obvious: an unknown number of Iraqi civilians killed, probably in six figures, power cuts, and during the recent push against the Mahdi army a curfew in Baghdad that left the streets empty and the shops without any fresh fruit or vegetables, not to mention the factional disputes verging on civil war. The initial invasion, the arms supplied by Iran, Turkey's recent incursions in the North, all play their part.
But the chaos does not stop at the Iraqi border. As the US is seen to be faltering, its allies in the Middle East and beyond are also weakened: Israel has responded by attacking Lebanon and now Gaza to reinforce its position; Hamas and al Fatah are in open conflict; and further east Pakistan has been destabilised. A very, very dangerous situation in which Israel and Pakistan are already nuclear powers and Iran is on the way to being one.
Nationalism is part of the problem
There are always those who see something ‘revolutionary' in imperialist chaos. For instance Socialist Worker (issue 2095) claims "Basra uprising beats occupiers" and quotes the Association of Muslim Scholars calling for "all Iraqis to show unity and solidarity and prevent the threats against the people who oppose the occupation". But what is the basis for this opposition? As the article says "a popular nationalist movement led by the rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr", ie, nationalism, religious and factional. This movement may use and channel the very real discontent at the killings, destruction and privations of the occupation, but it is fully integrated into the very system of imperialist relations that has caused the problem in the first place.
The working class, whether in Britain or Iraq or elsewhere, cannot afford to be taken in by illusions in nationalism from any country or faction, of whatever size. Our inspiration comes from the solidarity of workers defending their own living conditions from Egypt to the USA, Dubai to Germany. Alex 5.4.08