Middle East: The threat of generalised war

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The daily reality of life in Iraq gives the lie to all the claims by the US and British governments that Iraq is not in a state of civil war and that the situation there is gradually getting better. Since the attack on the Shia mosque in Samarra, there has been an acceleration of suicide bombings and mass ‘executions’, aimed less at the occupying forces or the Iraqi police and army than at civilians, slaughtered simply because of their religious affiliation. On Tuesday 28 February, over 30 were killed by a suicide bomber while queuing for domestic fuel. On 14 March the newspaper Courrier International reported that “the bodies of 15 young Iraqis, their hands tied and showing signs of having been hung up, were discovered in the west of Baghdad. 29 other bodies, their hands tied, were discovered in the east of the city. These bodies were buried recently and a military spokesman said there could be others”. 45 brick workers were shot dead at their factory on 25 February. Since the mosque was blown up on 22 February, at least 400 such ‘revenge’ killings have taken place. The simple act of going to the shops means dicing with death. In addition to those bombed at markets and fuel queues, 8 people were lined up against a wall and shot at a shopping mall during this period. Fear and insecurity are getting worse, not better, for the majority of the Iraqi population. 

The country is becoming ungovernable. Officially the leaders of the parliamentary parties are negotiating the formation of a new government, and president Talibani has announced a parliamentary commission to manage this process. In reality the different factions come to the negotiating tables with guns at the ready and are unable to reach any real agreement. Thus the Kurdish and Sunni groups have rejected a call to re-elect the outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaa Fari, who is supported by conservative Shia groups. On other issues, the Kurds line up with the Shiites against the Sunnis. This is a free-for-all in which each gang struggles to obtain the maximum of military and economic benefits for its constituencies.

America throws oil on the flames

Three years after the invasion and after Bush’s brag of ‘Mission Accomplished’, the US is still required to resort to massive military force to try to halt the erosion of its authority as the world’s leading power. This is all the more true as the militarist policies of the Bush administration become increasingly unpopular at home. Officially there have been 2291 deaths among the US troops and open opposition to the war is spreading among war veterans and soldiers’ families. According to the Democratic politician John Murtha, US officers have told him that the army in Iraq is itself at breaking point. Recruitment figures are plummeting. Today the American army is obliged to look for recruits among 17 year olds while at the same time raising the signing on age from 35 to 42 and making the physical selection criteria less rigorous. The administration is talking about bringing 38,000 troops home by the end of the year, but this does not signify a less aggressive military policy on the ground. On the contrary the US has been escalating military action in Iraq, launching the biggest air raids against Sunni ‘terrorist bases’ since the invasion began. This increasingly aggressive stance has also resulted in violent clashes between US and Iraqi troops and the Shia militias controlled by Moqtada al Sadr.

At the same time the US is continuing its belligerent approach towards Iran. Bush announced on 17 March that “Iran is perhaps the biggest challenge that any country offers to us”. On the face of it this “challenge” is posed by Iran’s nuclear programme, but it is also connected to the USA’s loss of control in Iraq and Iran’s growing involvement via the Shiite movement in the south of the country. But the US/Iran conflict also stretches to Lebanon, where Iran backs the Hezbollah, which is also pro-Syrian and committed to out and out war with Israel. Once again, the wider the challenge to US power, the greater the need for a display of force; but as in Iraq, the brutal assertion of US military might in turn stirs up an even wider challenge…

Iraq conflict threatens to spread across Middle East

During a recent visit to France, the Jordanian king Abdullah II expressed his concern about the danger of an extension of the Shia/Sunni conflict in Iraq to the whole of the Middle East: “In speaking of the Shiite crescent, I expressed the fear of seeing the political game, under the cover of religion, spilling over into a conflict between Sunnis and Shiite, the premises of which we are seeing in Iraq. There is the risk of an inter-religious conflict. That would be disastrous for all of us”, (Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2006). The massive presence of Shiites in Kurdistan, Saudi Arabia and above all in Iran makes this danger all the more real.

Meanwhile there is every sign that the other major conflict in the region – in Israel/ Palestine – is becoming more and more intractable. The recent elections for the Israeli parliament and for the Palestine Authority have left Israel with a government committed to unilateral action that will draw up an Israeli border around the ‘Security Wall’, and a Palestinian territory carved up into a series of politically and economically unviable cantons; and they have left ‘Palestine’ with an authority controlled by Hamas, which declares that its minimum demand is for the return of Israel to its 1967 borders and the right of return of all Palestinian refugees. The ‘peace programmes’ of the two sides are totally irreconcilable and they are at present unwilling to begin talks of any kind. Meanwhile, suicide bombings have resumed in Israel, although at present Hamas says that it is not directly perpetrating them. For its part, the US has lost all credence as an honest broker between the two sides: it refuses to recognise Hamas while inviting the newly elected Israeli PM Olmert to Washington.

Class struggle is the only answer to capitalist barbarism

The barbarity of capitalism is accelerating and the Middle East is one of its main breeding grounds. The spectre of ‘civil war’ between Sunni and Shiite, of endless conflict between Arab and Jew, hangs over the region, bringing with it a spiral of hatred and violence which can only obstruct the efforts of the exploited and oppressed to defend their real, material interests. Faced with the threat of generalised ethnic or religious massacres, the great ‘civilised’ powers are not the solution; they are part of the problem, because their imperialist interests oblige them to stir up the conflicts even more and use them as pawns in the game against their rivals.

But there is one source of hope that is real: the revival of the class struggle in the USA, France, Britain, Germany and elsewhere. The rediscovery of class solidarity in these struggles is a beacon for humanity against the darkness of fratricide and self-destruction. The new generations of the working class, fighting to defend their living standards against the attacks launched by the capitalist state, can and must bring back to life the traditions of 1917-18, when the proletarian revolution in Russia and Germany brought four years of imperialist butchery to an end and opened the gates to a worldwide human community. This is the perspective they must offer to their class brothers and sisters in the Middle East: against all national and religious divisions; for a common struggle of the exploited against their exploiters, and against exploitation itself.  AT 1/4/6