Islamic threat to US project

"Freedom is beautiful", mused Bush in a message to the Iraqi people over the Easter weekend. "And when people are free, they express their opinions as they could not do before". It is unlikely that the US finds the opinions starting to be voiced in Iraq as particularly "beautiful"

On April 18, millions of Iraqis attended the first Friday prayers since the fall of Baghdad to US occupation forces. Addressing tens of thousands in the main mosque of Abu Hanifa in Baghdad - and many more via a live broadcast by several Arabic satellite channels - the imam, Dr Ahmed Al-Kubaisa, delivered a stark message to the United States and Britain. "Either these forces leave immediately", he warned, "or they will be forced out by the people of Iraq". It is hard to comment in detail on the social forces that are beginning to emerge after the fall of the Ba'ath regime. In general, what we can say is that Iraqi society is opening up. Conditions are being created for the rapid politicisation of masses of people and the overcoming of the profound atomisation of society that was characteristic of life under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. In these chaotic circumstances - with Iraqi society just beginning to breathe again - it is not surprising that an established and well funded institution such as the mosque comes to the fore. These have maintained alternative networks of social solidarity throughout the Ba'athist years which - unlike secular oppositions - were not totally crushed. This is a danger, of course. But the conditions for left forces to 'catch up' and gain a mass hearing also seem to be developing. Exiles are returning. Those who survived underground emerge into the light. The Iraqi Communist Party has opened offices in Baghdad and is beginning to freely publish. Either way, the omens for the type of pliable, neo-colonial 'democracy' desired by the US do not look good so far. This will probably produce a marked reluctance on the part of the occupying powers, ie, the US, to permit elections in the short term. At the beginning of the war, British troops distributed thousands of leaflets to Iraqi civilians quoting Tony Blair to the effect that "our troops will leave as soon as they can. They will not stay a day longer than necessary" (The Guardian April 5). This open-ended formulation has now been made rather more concrete by senior Republican politicians in the US. Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented on April 21 that the mass demonstrations against the US presence should not lead to the view that "somehow or other, the Iraqis have spoken and we should move out". Indeed, the man believes that the Iraqi people should not have the right to speak for quite some time yet - he warns against "going to elections prematurely". Pressed for details, the good senator suggest that "at least we ought to be thinking of a period of five years" (www.theage.com.au). The one part of Iraq where US plenipotentiaries can be guaranteed a warm welcome is the Kurdish area in the north. The perception that the Kurdish parties having acted as cat's paws for the imperialists has clearly fuelled anger amongst the hardline islamicists. Hence their reactionary demand for the 'integrity' of the country. Put another way - they are against a federal solution and any notion of Kurdish self-determination. Yet, the Kurdish parties themselves are unreliable allies of the US - their 'alliance of convenience' could easily fall apart if Washington opts for the 'integrity' of Iraq. In fact, the problems currently faced by US imperialism underline that the whole concept of 'liberation' from above - even if one accepts the dubious proposition that 'liberation' of the Iraqi people was any kind of motive of the war - is a concept fraught with problems. In fact, thoroughgoing democratisation is almost invariably the product of emancipatory struggles from below, by the mass of working people. Given that the Iraqi masses played no part in their own 'liberation', how can democracy result from this war? The first problem the occupying forces face is a vacuum of power - how do the Americans establish a viable neo-colonial administration, having decapitated the previous power hierarchy? Ba'ath party leaders have fled, but it is not pliable home grown 'democrats' that are stepping into their shoes. In many places, power is devolving to forces that wield a degree of local authority and have an organisational infrastructure that can mobilise support - the imams. So the occupying power is viewing the mass demonstrations in holy cities such as Karbala with some unease. For them the disturbing prospect looms that the 'pre-emptive' overthrow of Ba'athism will bring forth a regime that resembles Iran's rather than the docile neo-colonial model wished for by Bush. William Saami, Middle East expert for Radio Free Europe, points out that America does not "have a lot of traction in the shi'ite community in Iraq. It is going to get worse before it gets better" (www.theage.com.au). In some areas, the chaos in the aftermath of the collapse of the Saddam regime is being filled 'informally'. In Baqubah, 35 miles from the Iranian border, a heavily armed, ostensibly pro-Tehran militia - the Badr Brigade - has seized control from under the noses of the Americans, much to the consternation of the local people. In Mosul in the north, two rival opposition groups - the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Iraqi National Conference - compete for control. Even where the occupying powers have attempted to establish a 'formal' civil power, as in Baghdad, there are huge problems in terms of legitimacy. The capital's reconstituted police force - which began joint patrols with US marines last week - is hated by the people. Marine captain Alan Yankowsky, a military liaison officer, laconically notes - "we're having trouble convincing the neighbours that they should trust the police. The problem is that the police weren't the nice guys. They basically robbed and raped and plundered. And now, look around. The police are back, they're driving the same cars as before, they're wearing the same uniforms and they have all the same faces. I can understand the concern". Similarly, the plan to parachute in political exiles - many who have lived pampered lives in the west for decades - is viewed with deep suspicion by the masses. The CIA notes that "every time you mention" the name of Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, "to an Iraqi, they want to puke" (United Press International, April 8). Of course, the prime motivation for this war had nothing to do with a noble urge to 'democratise' Iraqi society. Many Baghdadians bitterly note that while much of their city, including hospitals and other vital institutions, were left to the looters and arsonists, the occupying forces moved immediately to protect the ministries of oil and interior. But given the absence of the Iraqi people themselves as active agents in the struggle to remove the old regime, even plans to bring a degree of policed stability to society could start to unravel. The non-participation of the Iraqi people accounts for the power vacuum we now see expressed in the breakdown of civil order. In every genuine popular struggle for liberation, the energy of the risen people actually throws up new forms of democratic control - initially as organs of struggle, later as organs of rule. The fact that the Iraqi masses were absent as active agents in their own 'liberation' effectively means post-war society lacks cohesive democratic 'glue'. It has been decapitated - so now, how is it going to work? The last time the Iraqi people themselves started to take an active role in the fight for their own freedom - in the uprisings after the 1991 Gulf war - the US betrayed them, leaving Saddam's Republican Guard to exact a terrible revenge on the Kurds in the north and shia and leftist forces in the south. After calling for the Iraqi people to rise against the dictatorship, Bush snr recoiled from the actuality. As Avi Shlam - a professor of international relations at Oxford university - notes, papa Bush "evidently had in mind a military coup, a re-shuffling of "¦ gangsters in Baghdad, rather than establishing a freer and more democratic political order" (The Observer March 30). Establishing a stable government is a daunting task for the imperialists. The country does have the potential to fragment into Kurdish, shi'ite and sunni zones, perhaps with disintegrative knock-on effects in neighbouring countries. The US could bend towards accommodation with the shi'ite reactionaries and turn against its Kurdish allies in the north to maintain the country's unity. On the other hand, if Iraq starts to seriously fragment, the US could bolster Kurdish claims to wide-ranging autonomy - even independence - in order maintain control over the oil-fields of Kirkuk and Mosul. Whatever strategy America eventually opts for, its motivation will have nothing to do with the democratic rights of the people of the region. Genuine liberation can only come as a result of mass action from below - an anathema to the imperialists. Communists and revolutionary democrats in Iraq have to utilise the political space now opening up to advance a programme of consistent democracy - to avoid tailing reactionary anti-imperialism on the one side and sowing any illusions in the 'democratic' credentials of the imperialists on the other. * US-UK - out of Iraq! * Self-determination for the Kurdish north - for a federal solution! * No to the mosque, no to imperialist stooges like Chalabi! Ian Mahoney