Hands off Iraq

For a working class-led people's revolution against Saddam Hussein

On the evening of Friday February 16 more than 70 US and British aircraft launched a massive attack on Baghdad. It was the first on the Iraqi capital and the biggest on the country for two years.

Described by the Pentagon as "essentially a self-defence measure", the raid had two main aims. The first was, as George Bush and Tony Blair have stated, to disable Saddam Hussein's air defence system, which had been harassing US and British planes patrolling the 'no-fly zones' in the north and south. Clashes over these Washington-imposed zones have gone largely unremarked over several months, as US imperialism continues to insist on its right to dictate where any military plane may or may not fly inside Iraq.

The second aim is a more general and unspoken one. In the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the USA, backed up by its closest ally, Britain, is determined to enforce the imperialist 'new world order', where any challenge to US hegemony must be crushed and 'rogue leaders' brought to book. With sickening hypocrisy, immediately after his bombers had pummelled Baghdad, the newly elected US president declared: "Our intention is to make sure the world is as peaceful as possible."

Saddam Hussein has, of course, been the biggest 'rogue' of all over recent years, threatening over and over again to rock the imperialist boat in the Middle East and acting as one of the most irritating destabilising influences, from the point of view of the smooth operation of western capital, from Israel to Kuwait. It was after he ordered the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait a decade ago that he became public enemy number one.

He was forced out, having suffered devastating losses in terms of equipment and soldiers wiped out. Yet the allied forces that entered Iraq and retook Kuwait did not 'finish the job', as so many media commentators were demanding, stopping short of attempting to take major towns or depose the Iraqi president.

This was not just a question of trying to avoid costly losses in a conventional war. After the Gulf War the imperialists wanted a "functioning Iraq" to act as a counterweight to Iran - then still seen as the main wayward power. Now it is a different story: the ayatollahs are weakened, losing popular support and no longer able to effectively challenge the west. Bush is more seriously inclined to organise Saddam's removal. His administration has earmarked $3 billion to 'train' the Iraqi opposition - mainly the ineffective Iraqi National Congress.

In addition United Nations sanctions have not had the desired effect from imperialism's point of view. More and more, they are bypassed or simply ignored. Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athist elite have, if anything, been strengthened, able to use sanctions to excuse crippling poverty and the complete lack of democracy.

In April 1991, the first no-fly zone was set up north of the 36th parallel. This was in response to Saddam Hussein's brutal repression of the uprising by Kurds, who were trying to make use of the Iraqi regime's difficulties to secure their right to determine their own future. In August 1992, another exclusion zone south of the 32nd parallel was announced, this time to prevent the regime operating against the southern Shi'ites. It was extended to the 33rd parallel in September 1996.

Of course this does not mean that the imperialists are concerned for 'democracy' or 'human rights' per se. But they do want to resolve conflicts in the world's 'hot spots', the better to impose their own domination in the interests of global capitalist exploitation. Unlike sanctions, the no-fly zones were never backed officially by the UN.

Immediately after the raids the imperialist lie machine went into overdrive, claiming that they were launched against "unpopulated areas". When casualties were announced, it was claimed that those injured were "military personnel" - or, if you prefer an alternative fairy tale, that their injuries had been faked or resulted from Saddam's own actions (the day after the bombings, by way of a diversion and to underline the deadly threat emanating from the region, the Special Branch "exposed a plot" to attack London with nerve gas by unnamed "terrorists" linked to the Middle East). Of course, through the use of 'smart' weapons, casualties were comparatively minor, but the assault was no less despicable for all that.

But the US-British raids have not exactly been a propaganda success. There were rumblings of discontent in the Labour Party - although with a general election looming stalwarts like Bill Morris and even Glenys Kinnock were not prepared to go much further than mouth their "concern" at New Labour's neutered pre-election 'conference'. In fact finding a bourgeois government prepared to back Bush and Blair has not been easy. Hubert Védrine, the French foreign minister, stated that the attacks had "no legal basis", while Gerhard Schröder, chancellor of Germany, questioned the bombings as a tactic. How did Washington and London expect them to weaken Saddam Hussein?

In fact, the Iraqi president seems to be consolidating his grip on power more and more, with mass demonstrations in Baghdad and other Arab capitals, along with the West Bank, showing that in the Middle East he is not universally hated: far from it. He is admired, if not revered, by millions as someone who seems prepared to stand up to the US bully.

Labour MP George Galloway, that consistent friend of Iraq, immediately flew out to Baghdad and was pictured at the bedside of injured children. He said: "What the British and American governments are doing is reckless, lawless and murderous. For every bomb that is dropped, Saddam is getting stronger." Galloway went on: "I honestly wonder sometimes whether the British and Americans are working for Saddam Hussein, because the policy they are pursuing is boosting his standing around the world rather than reducing it."

Galloway plays a highly useful role for the Iraqi government. He is no crude propagandist, but is able to point out convincingly how counterproductive are US attempts to remove the regime through both sanctions and covert means. He claims to share the aim of a democratised Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, but I have never heard Galloway utter a word of criticism of his actions. Only the west is condemned.

Imperialism is of course our main enemy, but that should not lead us to uncritically tail self-seeking anti-working class despots like Saddam Hussein. This dictator has the blood of thousands of Kurds, Marsh Arabs, trade unionists, communists and democrats on his hands. Yet 'anti-imperialist' autocrats like Saddam, Mugabe and Milosevic have over and over again received the support of large sections of the Trotskyite and Stalinite left.

Unlike Galloway, Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party is totally unashamed in its unqualified backing for Saddam Hussein's 'progressive' regime. Before last weekend's raids the London region of the SLP had already planned a meeting to oppose imperialist sanctions. Quite right. But what is totally unacceptable is the whitewashing of the Iraqi regime. In a leaflet to advertise its meeting the author nonchalantly states that it was "quite untrue" that the work of UN weapons inspectors had been obstructed prior to their expulsion in 1998: "Iraq told them to leave the country since it was clear that nothing Iraq could do would ever satisfy them."

Turning to the no-fly zones, the SLP declares that the reason for their imposition was "to give imperialism a better chance of fomenting unrest among minority communities in Iraq, with a view to splitting up Iraq and thus weakening the ability of the whole region to resist imperialist looting". This really is pathetic. As in Bosnia and Serbia, and before that Yugoslavia, imperialism will usually discourage where it can the break-up of larger entities with an established infrastructure, frequently opposing the right to self-determination of oppressed people such as the Kosovar Albanians.

Fulsome in its praise of Saddam Hussein, the SLP states that, "His only crime in the eyes of the imperialists is to want to try to moderate the looting of Middle Eastern oil, so that the people of the Middle East can benefit from it to finance the economic development of the countries in which they live."

Again, oil is hardly the overriding reason for US imperialism's meddling in Iraq or the region as a whole. It is, as I have already pointed out, more to do with maintaining and strengthening hegemony. But to paint the Iraqi regime as a defender and benefactor of its oppressed subjects is a disgrace for so-called 'socialists' (ultra-Stalinites in the case of the London leadership of the SLP).

We communists stand four square behind independent working class politics. We never provide cover - 'critical' or otherwise - for oppressors of the working class, whether in Serbia, Zimbabwe or Iraq. We are not fooled by the claims of Saddam Hussein, Mugabe or Milosevic to be 'anti-imperialist'. In the 21st century the only consistent anti-imperialism is that of the working class.

Only the working class can deliver Iraq from the clutches of both imperialism and Saddam Hussein. It is in its power, in alliance with the rural and urban poor and the oppressed minority peoples, to dump its Ba'athist rulers and strike out for its own destiny.

We say: imperialism, hands off Iraq! For a working class-led people's revolution against Saddam Hussein!

Peter Manson