To mark the 10th anniversary of the start of the Gulf War in 2003, we reprint below extracts from Solidarity articles about the start and the aftermath of the war.
David Aaronovitch writes in the Observer: “If, in a few weeks time, the Security Council agrees to wage war against Saddam, I shall support it.” Others who consider themselves to be broadly on the left put the same case, from Salman Rushdie to Christopher Hitchens.
These are people who backed the war in Afghanistan after September 11, and who felt their stand was vindicated. Those opposing war, including this newspaper, warned of dire consequences and thousands upon thousands of dead. But, in the event, the Taliban were defeated quickly. Far fewer Afghans died in the process than we had anticipated.
Delighted by this, Christopher Hitchens wrote, addressing the anti-war left, “well, yah boo and sucks to you, too.”
As Aaronovitch notes, his own current of left-wing opinion really emerged over Bosnia and Kosova, and — negatively — over Rwanda, where the failure to intervene led to a million dead. It is not simply gung-ho for Western imperialism; in part, it is motivated by disgust at the moral emptiness of much left-wing argument — at those who opposed self-determination for the Kosovars, who played down the awfulness of the Taliban, or who side now, openly or covertly, with the butcher in Baghdad.
What if... Saddam is overthrown by a quick, “clean” war, and replaced by a democracy?
Saddam’s regime is very unlikely to be so easy to defeat as the Taliban. [Saddam’s regime] has survived war with Iran and the last Gulf war. His army is not what it was, after military defeat and sanctions, but it is still not negligible. If it was that easy to overthrow, someone would have done it by now.
It will be defeated, of course.
But there is equally no chance that Bush and Blair will replace it with any kind of democracy. On the contrary, their stated aim is for “regime change” in a much more limited sense — any old alternative dictator less hostile to them will do.
If the war led to freedom for the people of Iraq, you might argue that it would have been worth anything but the most colossal number of casualties. But we can’t know how colossal that number will be. And who, really, is prepared to lay bets on it?
Who is prepared to lay bets on other incalculable consequences of war?… On the boost militant political Islam, from Pakistan to Egypt, will get — more than compensating for the Taliban’s defeat?...
If we had our own army of democrats, we might set off for Baghdad tomorrow to help the Iraqi people throw off their oppressor. The techno-might of the US marines is no such army. They will deliver death and destruction first from the sky, then from the ground, and we don’t know with what result.
Aaronovitch is right that Saddam is a terrible dictator. For this reason, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is [saying] “No to war! No to Saddam!” — which is gaining support world-wide.
But the liberation of the Iraqi people can only be the task of the Iraqi people themselves. We can assist it by preparing to build solidarity with any genuine democratic movement which emerges there.
If Bush and Blair’s war calls such a movement into being, it will be by accident not design. Any genuine popular movement will find that Bush and Blair are its mortal enemies.
23 February 2003
At the end of December, the last US troops will withdraw from Iraq, eight years and eight months after the invasion of March 2003.
The invasion was the product of a surge of US triumphalism following the collapse of European and Russian Stalinism in 1991, easy US military successes in Kuwait (1991), Bosnia (1995), and Kosova (1999), and seeming US military success in Afghanistan (2001).
By invading, US politicians around George Bush thought they could cut short a possible process of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gradually regaining the regional support and influence he had lost after the Kuwait war in 1991. With a quick, sharp blow, they thought they could get a US-friendly, market-friendly regime in Iraq and use it as a lever to transform the Middle East and North Africa, which would otherwise fall to political Islamists when the decrepit old dictators like Mubarak, Assad, Qaddafi, Ben Ali, and the Saudi monarchy finally went.
In those terms, the invasion failed heavily. Iraq has a government dominated by Shia Islamists; the Iranian government, hated by the USA, probably has more influence in Iraq now than the US does.
US clout in the region and the world has declined.
The USA has repeatedly declared it wants a two-states settlement in Israel/Palestine, and quickly, but has been unable to produce even a significant nudge in that direction.
Hardly anyone in Iraq positively endorsed the US invasion.
Some of Iraq’s Shia majority, long suppressed by Saddam, were at first willing grudgingly to welcome the US’s overthrow of the dictator and to deal with the US troops on a wary “wait and see” basis, hoping they would tidy up and leave soon. Hassan Jumaa, leader of the oil workers’ union which sprang up in southern Iraq after the fall of Saddam’s police-state, said: “The occupation is like a headache, but Saddam was like death”.
The wariness soon turned to outright hostility, as the US clumsily destroyed the fabric of civil government in Iraq and tipped the country into a gangster-ridden chaos over which Americans strode demanding flat-rate taxes and rapid privatisations.
The USA was sucked into a long military presence. The chaos led the majority of Iraqis to demand that the US withdraw — but also to say that the withdrawal should come only after some civil order had been restored, so that withdrawal would not tip the country into full-scale sectarian civil war and the destruction of all the limited democratic and labour-movement opportunities which had opened with Saddam’s fall.
Socialists hoped that the new Iraqi labour movement would shape that reconstruction.
In fact the uneasy exhaustion into which Iraqi society finally fell from late 2007 was under the rule of a cabal of Shia Islamist parties, in loose alliance with Kurdish nationalists, and gradually reconstructing a state machine around themselves.
The Iraqi labour movement remains alive, though battered and still scarcely semi-legal. It will still need our solidarity after the US withdrawal.
14 December 2011