Two years ago the attack on the Twin Towers in New York opened the way to an acceleration of military tensions unprecedented since the end of the cold war. This new step into a world of chaos was justified by the so-called ‘struggle against international terrorism’, combined with a ‘battle for the defence of democracy’. This lying propaganda can no longer mask the real worsening of inter-imperialist conflicts between the great powers, in particular between the USA and its former allies in the western bloc.
As we have argued many times in this paper, the USA is permanently forced to assert its world leadership on the military level, a leadership that is no less permanently being challenged by its former allies. The main conflicts since the collapse of the eastern bloc have all been expressions of this, but it has been stated even more openly with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both these countries, the USA has been trying to impose its order directly, but is experiencing growing difficulties in the face of an increasingly chaotic situation. The US is unable to control the situation in Iraq
In order to prevent its principal rivals from putting a spoke in its wheels in Iraq and the Middle East, the USA has attempted to act alone. This is why it denied the UN the chance of playing the slightest political role in the administration of Iraq. On the military level the US operation was a real success. And yet at the present time there is no perspective for withdrawing its 145,000-man military force from the ground; in fact it has been shown to be too small to control the situation. The whole aim of the military occupation � to give the world a convincing demonstration of US power � is being undermined by the fact that the perspective of getting Iraqi society back on its feet seems more and more distant.
Whatever the American bourgeoisie says, it does not control the situation in Iraq. This reality is reflected in all the anti-American propaganda, which uses every opportunity it can to show the harmfulness of the US presence in the country.
The living conditions of the population, which were already deplorable under Saddam, have worsened as a result of the war and of the occupying power’s inability to supply the most basic necessities or repair the essential infrastructure, particularly for water and electricity. Food shortages have provoked a number of riots.
Criminal gangs and speculators are flourishing, creating a climate of instability and insecurity. This is fuelled above all by the activities of terrorist groups, who have been carrying out almost daily attacks on US troops and forces allied to the US: the British, who boasted that they were more sensitive to the feelings of the local population, have increasingly come under fire in Basra, and the Jordanians, whose embassy was bombed. But the economic infrastructure, such as the water and oil pipelines, is also under attack.
The occupying troops are paying a heavy tribute for the defence of the imperialist interests of the US bourgeoisie. At the time of writing over 60 GIs have been killed in ambushes since the end of the war. Terrorised themselves, the US troops in turn terrorise the population and are greeted with growing hostility. A further 78 GIs have died in ‘accidents’ of various kinds. The death toll is far from closed.
Despite the USA’s attempt to bind Iraqi society with ties of steel, anarchy has the upper hand. The attempt to set up an Iraqi authority and a ‘democratic’ constitution � the great beacon of American propaganda and a key justification for the war - remains stillborn. Bush may well proclaim that never before in history has a coalition government united so many different parties as the ‘Provisional Government Council’; but far from being the skeleton of a future government, this coalition is no more than a theatre of conflict between all kinds of rival gangs, all of whom show little interest in any overall ‘national’ interest. Worse still, certain Shiite factions are more and more inclined to wage a frontal combat against the US, especially after the bomb which killed the Ayatollah Hakim and almost 100 of his followers in Najaf on 29 August.
As for Blair’s promise that Iraqi oil revenues would soon pay for the reconstruction of Iraq, this has proved to be a mirage in the desert. Oil revenues are hardly sufficient to pay for the rebuilding of the oil installations, let alone the reconstruction of the entire country. This raises the question: who will pay for the growing financial burden of occupying Iraq? Who will control and pay for the Iraqi protectorate?
Thus although it succeeded in totally eliminating its rivals’ influence from Iraq, the US now finds itself caught up in a contradiction. The occupation of Iraq is a financial abyss and the loss of lives among the US troops will begin to pose serious problems for the American bourgeoisie. The US can’t think of pulling out until it has stabilised the situation to its advantage, but this is proving increasingly difficult. It is thus trying to get other powers involved in the financial and military effort, while maintaining an overall monopoly of command, with the UK playing the role of first lieutenant. So after spurning the UN for so long, the administration is now having to appeal for its help; but powers like France and Germany are reluctant to get involved if they have no say in the overall running of the operation and only play the role of bankers or suppliers of cannon fodder. This is becoming a new point of tension between the big powers.
The continual attacks on US troops and those inclined to support the occupation are increasing the pressure on the USA, and its apparent powerlessness to end them can only further encourage the numerous armed groups acting inside the country, whether Saddam loyalists, home-grown Islamist radicals or the jihadists infiltrating the country from elsewhere in the region.(note 1). The assassination of Ayatollah Hakim was a particularly hard blow against US claims that it can ensure the security of Iraq and oversee a political solution. It thus clearly plays the game of the USA’s rivals, local and global, even if they didn’t directly order it themselves.
This doesn’t mean that all terrorist actions in Iraq are necessarily directed against the US, as illustrated by the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 12 August, which killed over 20 people, including the UN general secretary’s special representative in Iraq, who is a great friend of France (his body guards were all French and it appears that he was specially targeted in this attack). On many levels, this attack served the interests of the USA. Although it does further demonstrate the USA’s inability to maintain order in this country, it nevertheless feeds their propaganda line that Iraq is the focus for the war against terrorism and that the latter isn’t only a threat to the USA. It is also a pretext to put pressure on the big democracies, the USA’s main rivals, to take up their responsibilities and get involved in the process of pacification and the building of a democratic Iraq. It is certainly no coincidence that this attack took place at a time when the US and Britain were already calling for the ‘international community’ to help carry the economic and military burden of controlling Iraq. Nevertheless, France and Germany were able to turn the situation to their own advantage by arguing that it is impossible for the UN to take a more active part in the on the humanitarian level without being associated to the direction of the country’s affairs, so as to ensure the security of its personnel. The week after the attack we heard the French foreign minister Villepin calling for a “political solution” in Iraq, strongly echoed by Chirac who told 200 ambassadors that there had to be a “transfer of power to the Iraqis themselves” and the establishment of “a process which can only be fully legitimised by the United Nations” � the whole thing wrapped up in a denunciation of “unilateralism” � ie the USA.
The contradictions faced by the US bourgeoisie also affect the British bourgeoisie, all the more alarmed by the fact that it has gained precious little from this alliance with the US. The scandal around the death of David Kelly, who was one of the main UN advisers on the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, expresses the fact that significant sections of the British ruling class have real disagreements with Blair’s policies. The US road map that doesn’t lead to peace
Just next to the mess in Iraq, the US also has to deal with a situation which has been getting worse and worse for decades: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. None of the US plans so far have succeeded. It is nonetheless urgent for the US to eliminate this focus of conflict, even if it means going against Israel’s wishes. The famous ‘road map’ initiated by the Bush administration showed Washington’s determination to force Israel to make serious concessions. It’s no longer a question, as it was with the Oslo accords set up during the Clinton administration, of getting Israel and the Palestinians to sit down and talk. The White House is now demanding that Israel offers no further obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state. The same authoritarian methods have been used towards the Palestinian side, to get rid of anything that might get in the way of a settlement. This is why Arafat, who previously has been a good ally of the US in getting the ‘peace process’ in motion, has been pushed aside in favour of his rival Mahmoud Abbas. And yet despite all the pressure from the US, Sharon, while making a show of accepting a cease-fire, has in reality carried on with his policy of opening up Palestinian territory to Israeli settlers, of making murderous incursions into the occupied territories and assassinating the elders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These organisations, in their turn, simply feed off the Israeli provocations in order to carry out new terrorist attacks in Israel.
For a very short period the ‘road map’ eased tensions, but a new series of terrorist attacks and counter-attacks have already signed its death warrant. All this shows the limits of USA’s muscular diplomacy. The USA’s difficulties in Iraq are echoed and even amplified by its inability to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On the eve of the second anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers, and of the third anniversary of the Intifada in Palestine, the perspective offered by capitalism, both to the population of those regions most directly affected by war, and to the whole planet, is one of growing chaos and horror.
(1) When Bush originally said that Saddam was in league with al-Qaida - it was probably a groundless claim. An irony of the ‘war against terrorism’ in Iraq is that it may well have encouraged Saddam loyalists and Islamic radicals to ally against the US occupation. After all, this is exactly what bin Laden called for just prior to the war! Back