Hundreds of Iraqis pelted British soldiers with stones yesterday for the second day running, following earlier clashes in the town of Amara, British troops with batons waded into the crowd after protesters demanding jobs again besieged the city hall, which serves as the British military's HQ. At least five Iraqis were killed, including at least one shot by a British soldier. The occupiers claimed that Iraqi police came under fire first, who then opened fire. British troops with armoured vehicles were deployed to support them. All the dead were civilians and there were no police or military casualties.
About 12 million Iraqis, around 70 per cent of the workforce, were unemployed before the war started and this number has increased since its end because of the disbanding of the army and the security forces. But the occupiers have their priorities right, enforcing Saddam's anti-unions laws and repressing unemployed workers groups.
Southern Iraq has been much quieter than the central area of the country, primarily because it is Shia and opposed to Saddam Hussein. Ironically, Amarah is a Shia city which was always a centre of resistance to Saddam Hussein and was liberated during the war last year by a force of guerrillas living in the nearby marshes.
A taste of "liberated" Iraq can also be seen from the treatment of staff from the international news agency Reuters. It has made a formal complaint to the Pentagon following the "wrongful" arrest and "brutalisation" of three of its staff by US troops. First, American soldiers fired at two Iraqi cameramen and a driver from the agency while they were filming the scene of a helicopter crash. Then the US military claimed that the journalists were "enemy personnel" who had opened fire on US troops. This in spite of the journalists all wearing bulletproof jackets clearly marked "press." No weapons were found, the US military admitted.
The journalists were "brutalised and intimidated" by US soldiers, who put bags over their heads, told them they would be sent to Guantanamo Bay, and whispered: "Let's have sex." At one point during the interrogation, according to the family of one of the staff members, a US soldier shoved a shoe into the mouth one of the Iraqis. They also made the blindfolded journalists stand for hours with their arms raised and their palms pressed against the cell wall. "They were brutalised, terrified and humiliated for three days," one source said. "It was pretty grim stuff. There was mental and physical abuse." He added: "It makes you wonder what happens to ordinary Iraqis."
Occupation, not liberation
We have been proved right. Occupation, rather than liberation is the norm in Iraq. The Shia are aware of this and their tolerance is reaching its limits. The US and its appointed Iraqi Governing Council, unsurprisingly, failed to persuade the most influential Shia cleric in Iraq to back a US plan for indirect elections. The Ayatollah is demanding direct elections while the US wants an assembly to be chosen by caucuses whose membership they will determine. So much for democracy!
This is just the latest in a long series of developments which proved the libertarian analyst of the war was correct. Anarchists argued that this war had nothing to do with WMD, terrorism or the repression of the Iraqi people. We argued that it was an imperialist war, fought for US geopolitical and economic interests. Oil played its part, of course, but was never the only issue. Far more important was to proclaim the global power of the US and give the regime clout against its external enemies (other states) and its internal ones (its own citizens).
The latter goal has been somewhat successful, with the unelected Bush Junta systematically undermining basic civil liberties and human rights. The former goal seems to be being weakened by the continued resistance to the occupation. If the US is overstretched in an impoverished country, weakened by years of sanctions, what do others have to fear?
So what of the excuses used to justify the invasion?
No Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) have been found. Nor any means of producing them. This is in spite both Bush and Blair insisting that both existed and in large numbers. In September 2002, Blair told the Commons that "Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing", a position he held as he ordered the invasion. As recently as last June, he told MPs he had "no doubt" they would "find the clearest possible evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction." The next month he watered down this claim to "WMD programmes." Last week, he finally said that WMD may never be found in Iraq, although he did repeat his usual mantra of "We just have to wait and see".
He did try and shift the blame: "The chief of defence staff and other people were saying well, we think we might have potential WMD finds here or there. Now these things didn't actually come to anything in the end - but I don't know is the answer."
Which makes him the only one who doesn't know the answer, that Bush lied and Blair followed willingly, adding yet more lies to justify the war. So a year ago, Blair was telling us that he was absolutely certain there were WMD. Now it's a case that we may never find them. How pathetic can you get? One good thing to come out of this is that the British state, from politicians to its intelligence agencies, face a huge credibility problem. It strengthens the anarchist critique of the state.
Blair may still hope that WMD will be found in Iraq. The Bush Junta is clearly not so convinced. The 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group (a number itself inflated by the inclusion of Iraqi drivers, translators and other support staff) is being severely depleted. Its intelligence personnel are being withdrawal to deal with a higher priority, namely the insurgency that is killing large numbers of occupation troops. Which, incidentally, shows that the Bush Junta knows WMD do not exist. After all, would they really be willing to let insurgents get their hands on such weapons? Its head, who confidently predicted the discovery of WMD, has given notice of his resignation to the Bush administration. This group has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and has not found a single WMD to destroy.
The Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Group has been quietly been recalled. This was the 400-member military team whose job was to search every inch of Iraq for any and all military equipment. This action is an embarrassing acknowledgement that Bush has no realistic expectations of finding the WMD used to justify invading Iraq.
Strangely, the UK media seem to be rewriting history somewhat as regards the Bush Junta's claims. While stressing the heat Blair is under for the lack of WMD, many are claiming that Bush is less affected because it was only Blair who put WMD, rather than regime change, at the centre of his justification for war. This is false. For example, back in February, Bush made it clear at the American Enterprise Institute annual dinner that it was a case of "If war is forced upon us by Iraq's refusal to disarm" the US would act. He stated that "In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world . . . This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations, and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country . . . The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted. We hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm, fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed."
Planned from the start
This month also saw a high-ranking former cabinet member expose the Bush Junta's lying. According to the former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, the Bushites started making detailed plans for the invasion of Iraq within days of coming to office, with Bush himself anxious to find a pretext to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This confirms what anarchists argued in the run up to war, namely it was driven by US geopolitical needs and had nothing to do with the numerous excuses invented by Bush and Blair.
According to O'Neill, invading Iraq was "topic A" at the very first meeting of President George Bush's National Security Council, 10 days after his inauguration on 20 January 2001, and continued to be an abiding theme in follow-up meetings. As for WMD: "In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterise as evidence of weapons of mass destruction." Moreover, "there were allegations and assertions by people . . . I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterise as real evidence." And those links to terrorist groups? The fear that these non-existent WMD would be handed over to al-Qaeda? Colin Powell now admits that there is "no proof" of any links whatsoever, which Bush himself admitted.
O'Neil shows how the Bush Junta cynically exploited the 11 September terror attacks.
The cabal around Bush were planning for some time to launch an aggressive policy of global military interventionism, particularly the neo-conservative hawks like Cheney and Rumsfeld. Yet Bush pledged the opposite in the 2000 election campaign, namely an opposition to so-called "nation-building" and foreign adventures. Remember, this is the man who also promised to bring honesty back to the White House!
But why be surprised. Bush is hardly the brains behind the operation. O'Neil confirms it, describing him as having nothing to say and allowing others to fix the agenda. Anarchists have long argued that real power in the state lies in the state bureaucracy and big business. Bush is simply the public face of a specific wing of the ruling class.
All of this as American deaths in Iraq near the 500 mark. And the Shi'ite resistance in central Iraq shows no signs of slowing down. Officially all of these deaths were to protect Americans from Iraqi WMD, to prevent them from getting into the hands of terrorists intent on striking in America itself. When Americans have asked why Iraqi WMD mattered so much in March of last year and not years before, Americans and the world have always been told that "September 11 changed everything."
September 11 changed a lot. For example the US state is now far more authoritarian than before as it has gained substantial powers over its subjects. As regards Iraq, September 11th only changed one thing -- it provided an excuse for the invasion and occupation. It did not force the Bush Junta to break international law and start a war of aggression against Iraq. O'Neill has shown that planning for the invasion and occupation of Iraq did not begin after September 11, rather it began in January of 2001.
But even this is wrong. The Bush Junta did not change track the moment it was appointed to the White House. No, all this was planned since at least three years before. On January 26, 1998, the "Project for a New American Century" sent a letter to President Clinton calling for an invasion and occupation of Iraq. This letter was signed by people who would become very senior Bush Administration officials. These appointees of Bush are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands.
Meanwhile, back in Iraq
In Iraq, the US is under pressure in both the south and north. The Shia clerics are heating up their demands for direct elections and calling mass demonstrations to back them up (although we all know how Blair and Bush react to such events). In the north, the Kurds have rejected a US-backed plan for very limited autonomy for them. This is a step back from the situation under Saddam where the north of the country enjoyed a status close to independence for more than a decade. "It gave us even less than Saddam Hussein offered us in the past," a Kurdish leader said.
The Kurds have fought against control by Baghdad for most of the last 80 years, so their determination to keep substantial control of their own affairs is hardly surprising. However, the US and its puppet Iraqi Governing Council have been pressing for greater centralisation. They expect the Kurds to accept integration into a post-Saddam Iraq. Kurdish leaders say this is unrealistic, reminding the Americans that they had been committed since 1992 to a federal Iraq in which the Kurdish region would rule itself. The US may seek to undermine the Kurds autonomy, knowing that it is unlikely they will declare independence as this would cause Turkey to invade and provoke hostility from Iran and Syria.
Iraq is a quagmire for US imperialism. The sad fact is that the people who suffered under Saddam (before, during and after he was backed by the US) are now suffering under imperialist occupation. The US wants to shape Iraq in its own interests, something all sections of the Iraqi people are resisting. Hopefully the mass resistance to occupation will break out of its nationalist and religious bounds and turn into a struggle for freedom from all oppressions and bosses. That will involve creating organs of popular self-management in the community and workplace and a clear understanding that replacing foreign masters with local ones is not freedom. In other words, a mass movement and revolt is required, one which working class people run and control.
Until this happens, we cannot call, as some Leninists have, for "victory to the resistance" as this will just swap one set of bosses for another. But we can and must call for the end of the US occupation as this is the necessary first step in reconstructing Iraq in the interests of its inhabitants. Such a society will, probably, be a statist and capitalist one but ultimately it is up to the Iraqi people to build the kind of society they want. We cannot deny their rights to self-determination until such time as they want a libertarian society. All we can do is encourage movements and struggles which will bring such a society nearer here and abroad while proclaiming and acting upon our opposition to imperialism and occupation.