In a situation of generalised chaos, of permanent civil war, of daily terrorist attacks and the abduction of hostages of all nationalities including Iraqis, the American army in Iraq has launched a new land and air offensive. For the first time since the beginning of the war, Iraqi soldiers armed entirely by the US and under American command have taken part in the first phase of this offensive. As the Financial Times put it "it's better to confer military operations on Iraqi forces in order to minimise the political repercussions". On October 3 this resulted in the fall of Samara, 100km north of Baghdad. The assault involved bitter fighting and house to house searches. It is well known that many civilians died even though statistics are hard to verify. According to a recent inquiry by a team of American and Iraqi researchers, the number of civilians killed since the beginning of the invasion in March 2003 may be as high as 100,000, the majority the result of aerial bombardments by the Coalition, which now hardly even bothers to claim that it is using 'precision' methods aimed at limiting civilian deaths. Since the team was unable to operate in Falluja, which has been reduced to a semi-ruin, the real casualty figures could be even higher.
So far there have been at least 2300 attacks on Coalition forces, the Iraqi police and the civilian population, in an area that reaches from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south. Not one region of Iraq has been spared. The situation is so bad that some of the countries who are maintaining troops in the country are openly questioning whether they will remain. The Polish defence minister Jerzy Somajdzinski announced in an interview with Gazeta Wyboteza that Polish troops might be withdrawn by the New Year. Not one of the imperialist states which took part in the war alongside the Anglo-American forces has managed to avoid the same impasse as the US.
The USA's loss of control over the situation, despite the new military offensive, is such that there is a real danger that Iraq will fall apart as a unified entity. In the north, the town of Kirkuk is claimed in an increasingly aggressive manner by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. But more significant than this is the fact that now all the southern provinces are threatening to secede. "Members of the municipal council of Basra, Iraq's second city, with a Shiite majority, have begun talks with their counterparts in the two neighbouring towns of Maysan and Dhiqar in order to discuss the creation of a federal region in the south" (Courier International 19/10/04). Although the break-up of Iraq in the manner of the Balkans or the Caucasus is not on the immediate agenda, wherever imperialist wars ravage the world today they bring the possibility of the complete dismantling of national entities. Since the control of oil as a strategic and military weapon is so important, it's worth recalling that 80% of Iraq's oil reserves are in the south where there is a push for autonomy; and here the Shiites are very close to Iran. The increasingly chaotic situation in this part of the world casts serious doubts on the USA's ability to control the oil producing zones.
Elections in Iraq will solve nothing
But the present military offensive by the US has a more immediate objective. The American bourgeoisie hopes that the elections, due to be held on 31 January, will stabilise the situation, if only temporarily. However, even the holding of the elections is extremely problematic. The Iraq authorities and the representatives of the UN who are trying to organise these elections have said that they will be very difficult to hold. A member of the organising committee has even declared: "compared to here, the Balkans are Norway". The White House has even envisaged a worst-case scenario of holding the elections only in the regions that are secure. With the elections discredited in advance, the Iraqi authorities have been compelled to react, since a half-baked election will not ensure the position of Prime Minister Allawi. In order to limit the damage as much as possible, the US has had to discretely inject 100 million dollars into the "education of electors", as well as carrying out the military offensive. It has also asked for extra help from Britain. After a period of playing hard to get, the British government has dispatched the Black Watch to Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, where foreign and Iraqi forces have been subjected to frequent attacks.
Recent polls suggest that only 2% of Iraqis see the American army as liberators. US imperialism is widely hated for its imperialist policies in this part of the world. This has not always been the case: up till 1967 and the Six Day war, France was far more unpopular - it had conducted a brutal war in Algeria, had taken part in the Suez fiasco and was the main supplier of arms to Israel. Today all this has been turned on its head and France poses as the friend of the Muslim world. The weakening of US hegemony is such that, even if the elections managed to regain a certain degree of credibility, the aftermath will be worse, not better, for US imperialism. "No Iraqi government could last long after the departure of American troops, unless it was made up of forces that had already proved themselves as opponents of the occupation" (John V Whisbeck in the journal Asharq al-Awsat)
Growing instability in Israel/Palestine
The terrorist attacks that took place recently on hotels in the Sinai are the latest step in the descent into chaos in this part of the Middle East. This had been one of the last places where Arabs and Jews could rub shoulders without being threatened by violence. Whoever carried out the hotel bombing in Sinai, it shows that there are no longer any sanctuaries in the region. For the Israelis, Egypt is less and less reliable as a kind of ally. "It is not necessary to be subjected to the insensitivity, indolence, indifference, even hostility which the Egyptian authorities displayed in a revolting manner the night the attacks took place to understand that the security of Israel and Israelis is not one of Egypt's priorities" (Martin Sherman in Yediut Aharamut). Since it stood so close to the US, Egypt has for some time been one of Israel's main interlocutors in the Arab world; but now it has become a haven for terrorist groups like Hamas and has been drawn more and more into the heart of the conflict. This can only be aggravated by Israel's military offensive in Gaza and the West Bank, which has continued despite the Knesset's backing for Sharon's plan to dismantle a limited number of Jewish settlements to withdraw troops from these areas. Even if Sharon succeeds in overcoming the opposition to these plans from the hardliners in his own party, there is no basis for claims that Sharon is a peacemaker. His plan aims at the creation of a Palestinian Bantustan which will do nothing to defuse nationalist tensions in the region. Meanwhile there are widespread fears that if Arafat doesn't survive his current illness, the resulting political void will further strengthen the position of the extremist wing of Palestinian nationalism.
An even more sinister sign of growing conflict in the region is the fact that Israel's real bête noire is Iran, which stands to gain a great deal from the consequences of inter-imperialist confrontations in the Middle East. With the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, its main rivals have been eliminated. In a situation of every man for himself, where no one imperialist state can impose its will over another for long, Iran is desperately seeking to arm itself with nuclear weapons, which are already possessed by neighbouring rivals Israel and Pakistan. "The people in charge of Israel's security services are faced with a paradox: pleased by the disappearance of a sworn enemy thanks to the American invasion of Iraq, they are becoming more and more anxious that this same invasion has created another enemy for them. And they are seeing the Middle East going from conventional rivalries to far more dangerous nuclear rivalries" (Stevens Erlanger in The New York Times). This is why we are hearing increasingly bellicose declarations from Israel's leaders. These are not the expression of a few individuals who are losing their head; it reflects the frightful reality of decomposing capitalism. Left to its own dynamic, this perspective is just as real as the danger of nuclear war between India and Pakistan.
The accelerating decline of US leadership can only push its rivals large and small to strike out in defence of their imperialist interests. Every state, every war lord is being drawn into this spiral of violence. The working class, the only class which can unify and organise itself on a planetary scale, is the only social force that can offer humanity a different perspective. The proletariat cannot afford to allow itself to become habituated to the nightmarish scenes it sees on TV screens all around the world. Faced with this flood of massacres and atrocities, the only healthy response is indignation, informed by a clear understanding of the capitalist origins of all this horror.
RI, October 2004.