Public relations campaign stumbles

Two weeks into their invasion of Iraq, the Anglo-American imperialists are beginning to look in some trouble. For all the bombast, all the arrogant assumptions that this would be an easy victory - or a "cakewalk", as one of Bush's more wacko advisers publicly bragged shortly before the invasion began - US and British troops were forced to call a halt to their advance for several days. The projected uprising against Saddam Hussein's regime, which was supposed to be triggered by the coming of the British and American 'liberators' (in reality would-be conquerors), has not happened. Instead, the imperialist forces are facing something that they certainly did not expect: guerrilla warfare, with every sign that defenders using these kinds of tactics are finding plenty of support among the civilian population. The same civilian population, that is, that the imperialists crowed would greet them with flowers and American flags. Evidently, something has gone badly wrong somewhere. The supposedly devastating tactic of 'shock and awe', that would so terrify the regime and anyone in the civilian population inclined to defend it that they would allegedly surrender within a few days at most, has failed miserably. The so-called 'surgical' war, where government buildings are blown up by computer-controlled, satellite-guided Tomahawks, has included, amongst many other criminal acts, the bombing of a Baghdad market last week, killing at least 55 and injuring hundreds, and the shooting to death of women and children at a US army checkpoint. It is worth recalling that similar atrocities, carried out by those deemed to be enemies of the west, were the excuse for bombing wars by the Nato powers in the former Yugoslavia in 1995, and again in 1999. Iraqi government sources, entirely credibly, claim that over 500 civilians have been killed in coalition bombing. These tactics are visibly backfiring, as the population regards itself as under fire by a foreign invader that makes hypocritical noises about its 'humanitarianism', while not hesitating to shed the blood of Iraqi civilians. Indeed both the British and Americans have been forced onto the defensive. There are the publicly leaked grumbles by the US army brass about defence secretary Rumsfeld's interference in operational decisions, including, of course, his decision to send only about half as many troops as his generals reckoned were needed. There is the pause for reinforcements that will take several weeks to arrive with their equipment (while meanwhile the desert temperature gets hotter and hotter). These reinforcements are projected to double the size of the US contingent - yet despite this the Americans, reportedly engaging with elusive Republican Guards 50 miles from Baghdad, are now proclaiming that the battle for the capital has begun. In this confusion, 'Prince of Darkness' Richard Perle, one of the chief ideologues of the Committee for a New American Century and an adviser to Bush and Rumsfeld, has already gone, allegedly due to a 'conflict of interest' - hardly unique for people of his ilk. Then we have the pathetic procession of nonsense stories, including notably from the British camp: the on-off-on capture of the port of Umm Qasr (apparently it is still not considered completely safe even now); the 'mass uprising' in Basra that turned out to be a mirage; the column of 'hundreds' of tanks that supposedly fled south from Basra that turned out to be no more than half a dozen strong; the incredible stupidity of Blair publicly accusing the Iraqi regime of 'executing' captured soldiers whose relatives had already been told by the British army (correctly) that they had died in battle. The cacophony of quickly discredited disinformation cannot inspire confidence in even the most credulous elements of the population - something the imperialists are well aware of. Which is why, of course, the volume of nauseating moral denunciation of the perfidious enemy has been pumped up more and more. The coalition is complaining that its captured troops have been exhibited on Iraqi television - yet, even as Rumsfeld whines about violations of the Geneva convention, Iraqi 'irregulars' taken prisoner are being shipped off to Guantanamo Bay to join the hostages taken in the US war in Afghanistan - where they have no rights as POWs (which they obviously are), nor legal redress of any sort. The war fought by the coalition more and more resembles the kind of campaigns waged by the Israelis in Lebanon - bloody and indiscriminate - and Iraqis have begun to employ the kind of resistance tactics used with notable success by Lebanon's Hezbollah - suicide bombings that make the occupying troops fear their every contact with the population at large. A perfectly legitimate tactic waged by a people fighting an invading force that in technological power outguns them by so many orders of magnitude as to make the contest one of the most unequal in human history. In fact, while American and British military spokesmen have spent a fair amount of time in the last two weeks squirming and having to make damaging admissions about the previous day's briefings, at times their Iraqi counterparts have exuded a certain confidence and bravado. Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf's briefings of the international media have attracted attention for their informative and often cogent content, in contrast to the contradictions of the coalition spokespersons, who have had to field numerous questions regarding the misinformation they were spinning the day before. There is little more nauseating than the imperialist rhetoric about winning the 'hearts and minds' of the Iraqi population. Indeed, this kind of phraseology is an indication of political defeat: it shows that the claims of 'liberation' are not believed by the Iraqi population, so the imperialists are resorting to the tactic of the hard sell. As with previous imperialist propaganda campaigns in such places as Vietnam, when the hard sell fails then the concentration camps will not be far behind. In fact, many exiled Iraqi opponents of Hussein's odious dictatorship, understanding the simple and obvious fact that this war is a grab for control of a country which boasts the second biggest oil reserves on the face of the planet, are returning to fight for their country's right to national independence against imperialist piracy. Evidently, a popular movement now exists, with a real democratic thrust: it is not fighting so much for the existing regime, with all its undoubted barbarities and atrocities, but rather for the right of Iraq to be free from foreign invasion and domination - despite the regime. This is an entirely progressive aim that all class-conscious workers, socialists and communists should support. The defeat of coalition forces, including, if necessary, inflicting massive casualties, and their expulsion from the territory predominantly inhabited by the Arab Shi'a majority and Arab Sunni minority, would be a massive victory for the working class of the world. If a progressive anti-imperialist movement in Arab Iraq - composed of principled defenders of Kurdish national rights, capable of winning Kurdish militants away from their current fragile alliance of desperation with the Americans in favour of a united struggle for the liberation of all the peoples of Iraq - were to arise against Saddam Hussein, then that would be even better. In any case, the prospect of an extended war, with the Anglo-US imperialist coalition facing a hostile population, something of a quagmire and likely many months of a war of attrition, means that there are new opportunities for socialists and opponents of the war to make progress. There has, predictably, been a wave of popular support in Britain for 'our troops' once the fighting got underway, irrespective of the massive size of opposition to the war before it began. But this has been followed by popular scepticism, both here and in the US, over the military claims of the coalition. Indeed, three British soldiers have been sent home from Iraq - they now face possible court martial for criticising the targeting of civilians. While it is by no means clear that the current difficulties of the coalition will prove insurmountable, there are real grounds for optimism, given the fluidity of this situation and the imperialists' difficulties, that the mass anti-war movement can be rebuilt, with a good deal more political radicalism and potency, as pro-war disillusionment sets in. Indeed, recent opinion poll surveys indicate that close to one third of the British population still, in the midst of the chauvinist wave, oppose this war. It is also notable that the firefighters have rebelled against their leadership's attempts to sell out their dispute under the cover of war, and that railworkers have gone on strike only this week despite the bellicose atmosphere - the fact that workers are prepared to pursue their trade union demands is a straw in the wind. What the anti-war movement lacks, of course, is a political alternative, a conscious set of politics that can link working class discontent to the struggle against war. Politics, that is, to counterpose to the politics of the capitalist parties, and bourgeois ideology in general, that conditions working people to support their own ruling class at war. Ultimately, a new working class party, armed with the most advanced Marxist theory - and thereby consciousness that working people have interests utterly opposed to those of the ruling class - is what is objectively necessary for real victories against imperialism and its wars. Ian Donovan