As we go to press, what US government officials describe as a “very bloody and nasty” US blitz on the Iraqi city of Fallujah could be only days or hours away.
The city is already being bombed regularly, and 40,000 US troops are massed around it.
A full-scale offensive is certain to kill many hundreds of civilians. The US made an assault on Fallujah in April. That killed several hundred people before the US retreated. Effectively they left the city in the hands of Islamist militias, which are now stronger than they were in April.
As a US commander once said in Vietnam, the USA seems to be out to “destroy the city in order to save it”.
Even if the USA can crush the Islamists this time, the massacre that comes with it is certain to create new Fallujahs across Iraq. Thousands more Iraqis will join the militias. The imposition by the USA on Iraq of a market-minded economic model, trying to contract everything out to multinational, mainly US, firms, has left water, electricity, and health care still not functioning.
This way lies further descent into chaos and the disintegration of Iraqi society, until the battles reach the stage of a full-scale colonial war. Possibly the USA can eventually, by brute military force, impose sufficient sullen acquiescence to enable a strong-arm regime to keep a lid on Iraq, but that will be far from the promised liberal democracy.
The planned assault could even break up the stooge Interim Government: its president has opposed the assault, while the prime minister has supported it. There must be some hope that the USA will pull back. But not much, and not reliable hope.
The only hope for a way out is the growth and self-assertion of the new Iraqi labour movement. Only that labour movement can unite the working people of Iraq, around the sort of concerns which will form the agenda of a trade union conference in Basra on 25 November: “how to establish a secular and non-ethnocentric government where the rights of all residents of Iraq are respected”.
US bombs and blitzes will not do it. Neither will the “resistance” militias.
The SWP magazine Socialist Review (October 2004), a publication that cannot be suspected of prejudice against the militias, paints a sombre picture of what the backlash against US arrogance has produced, in a society pulverised by many years of totalitarian dictatorship, successive wars, and economic sanctions.
“I found the same resistance posters I had seen elsewhere in the city and throughout the west of the country... showing a fist lunging out of Iraq into an Iraqi flag. On the flag it said, ‘Congratulations to Fallujah’s people — jihad, martyrdom, victory.’ Two armed resistance fighters were on either side, their faces covered by keffiyehs. A US flag with a Star of David on it was on fire, its flames burning American soldiers.
“The foreign mujahideen based in the Julan neighbourhood were... harassing Iraqis for smoking cigarettes and even for drinking water using their left hand, considered impure. They had banned alcohol, western films, make-up, hairdressers, ‘behaving like women’ (i.e. homosexuality), and even dominoes in the coffee houses. Men found publicly drunk had been flogged, and I was told of a dozen men beaten and imprisoned for selling drugs.
“Islamic courts were being established in association with mujahideen units and mosque leaders, meting out punishment consistent with the Koran. Erstwhile Ba’th Party members told me they were expiating the sins of their former secularism, and Ba’th ideology had now become Islamist. An assistant to the mayor confirmed that there were Islamic courts with their own qadis, or judges, who acted independently of the police. He added that all the spies had already been killed, ‘but before we killed them we made sure they were spies’...”
The reporter whom Socialist Review quotes, Nir Rosen of Asia Times, concludes: “My contact’s increasingly erratic behaviour convinced me that if I went to Fallujah again I would not return. I left Iraq”.
But the peoples of Iraq cannot just “leave”. They are caught between the two fires of Islamist militarism and US/UK imperialism. They need our support.