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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 67/No. 16May 12, 2003

lead article
U.S. gov’t steps up drive
toward war with Iran
Iraqi Shiites lead protests
to end U.S.-British occupation
In the ancient city of Karbala, one million people from Baghdad, Mosul, and Najaf as well as cities in the south, joined a traditional pilgrimage. It became a celebration of Shiite identity, as well as a vehicle to demand an end to the U.S. and British imperialist occupation.

Washington has accelerated its course toward war against Iran, as demonstrators in the south of Iraq, mostly Shiite Muslims, have poured into the streets to demand an end to the foreign military occupation.

Pro-Iranian Shiite leaders have seized the initiative to stand at the head of the protests against the U.S. and British imperialist occupation of the country. They have used this position to advance their call for the establishment of an "Islamic republic" in Iraq.

To justify their war drive, U.S. officials have added more charges against Iran, in addition to their ongoing allegation that Tehran is developing nuclear "weapons of mass destruction." Now they are also accusing the Iranian government of sending agents over its border to south ern Iraq to foster protests by Shiites there. "There is no question that the government of Iran has encouraged people to go into the country and that they have people in the country attempting to influence" events, said U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld April 25. "A vocal minority claiming to transform Iraq into Iran will not be permitted to do so."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters April 23, "We’ve made clear to Iran that we would oppose any outside interference in Iraq.... [The] infiltration of agents to destabilize the Shiite population would clearly fall into that category."

In response to these accusations, Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi said at an April 23 news conference, "It is very interesting that the Americans have occupied Iraq but they accuse Iraq’s neighbor of interfering in its affairs." He argued that "instead of raising accusations, the United States should adopt cooperation with Iran."

Kharrazi protested the cease-fire U.S. military officers signed with the Mujahedeen Khalq, a heavily armed Iranian opposition force that has carried out many cross-border attacks on Iran from its Iraqi bases. "If this news that [the Muja-hedeen] can stay in Iraq and keep their arms is correct, it will expose the Americans’ plans in the region," said Kharrazi.

The U.S. Central Command disclosed April 28 that U.S. forces had signed a cease fire with the Mujahedeen April 15. Under the deal, Washington pledged to halt raids on the group’s camps. The Muja-hedeen get to keep their arms as long as they refrain from firing on U.S. forces.

Washington had placed the group on its list of "terrorist" organizations in 1997, when U.S. president William Clinton tried a rapprochement with Tehran. The Bush administration had stuck by this approach. Until very recently, White House officials described the group as a "vicious entity that served as a de facto security organization for the Iraqi government," according to the New York Times. "An American military official said the group could provide intelligence regarding Iranian government activities both in Iraq, and in Iran itself," the April 29 Times reported.

Iran has been a target of imperialist hostility since workers and peasants in that country carried out a popular insurrection in 1979 against the U.S.-installed shah. The shah’s bloody regime was, along with the Israeli government, a pillar of imperialist domination and exploitation in the oil-rich region.

Oil workers and other working people provided the mass forces and much of the leadership in the battles that overthrew the monarchy in Iran. There were no working-class organizations, however, that were capable of leading the struggle for power.

The lack of such a proletarian organization was a legacy of earlier betrayals by the Stalinist movement. During a revolutionary upsurge in 1945–46, centered among working people in Azerbaijan, the leaders of the Stalinist Tudeh (Communist) Party joined the bourgeois government. This and other class-collaborationist actions paved the way for the defeat of the revolutionary movement, discrediting the party in the eyes of the working masses.

Three decades later, the leadership vacuum in the popular rebellion in 1978–79 was filled by bourgeois opposition forces--the anti-shah Muslim clerics, the most prominent of whom was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. They declared the new government an Islamic Republic, and oversaw the implementation of laws, couched in Islamic texts, designed to consolidate the domination of their wing of the capitalist class.  
Opposition to U.S.-led interim gov’t
"We will first opt for a national political system, but eventually the Iraqi people will seek an Islamic republic system," said Abdelaziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, in an interview with Iranian television in mid-April. He called on Shiites to join the traditional pilgrimage to the ancient city of Karbala and to "oppose a U.S.-led interim administration and defend Iraq’s independence."

The pilgrimage drew more than 1 million people from Baghdad, Mosul, and Najaf, as well as cities in the south. It became a celebration of Shiite identity, as well as a vehicle to call for the rapid exit of the imperialist forces.

The ceremony had been banned for decades under the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and his predecessors. Each year, Baghdad mobilized its armed forces to cordon off Karbala and crack down on those who defied the government’s prohibition. This was just one aspect of the systematic policy of persecution of the Shiite majority, who number some 16 million among the country’s 24 million people.

Those clerics who oppose the imperialist occupation and back the call for an Islamic Republic similar to the Iranian government have prevailed in several struggles for leadership, while those tarred with association with the Hussein government have been the targets of protests.

"We are in control of all of Iraq, especially central and southern Iraq, not only Baghdad," said Sadeq Abu Jafaar, an aide to Sheik Muhammad al-Fartusi, a prominent Shiite cleric based in eastern Baghdad.

Writing in the April 27 New York Daily News, columnist Michael Kramer called the Shiite movement "a nasty surprise the U.S. did not expect." Kramer quoted a U.S. State Department official who said, "We totally underestimated the degree to which many Shiites oppose us.... Their ability to begin organizing governmental operations in the current political vacuum is nothing short of astounding."

Kramer wasn’t the only commentator in the big-business media to express concern. Liberal columnist Thomas Friedman complained in an April 27 piece in the New York Times, "No sooner is Saddam gone than up pops a group of Shiite clerics demanding that Iraq be turned into another Iran.

"Maybe these countries [like Iraq] are not real states, but are simply collections of tribes that can be controlled with only a fist, and the only options are an evil iron fist or a softer, more benign one," Friedman wrote.  
Instability in Kurdish areas
As the Shiite-led protests burst into the streets, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, Washington’s chief "civilian" administrator in Iraq, pointed to the regional governments in the Kurdish areas as "a model for the rest of Iraq." The main capitalist forces there, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), fully backed the U.S.-led war.

Garner played down reports that Kurdish soldiers were expelling Arabs who had been resettled in Kirkuk and other Kurdish areas by the Saddam Hussein government.

At the end of April, U.S. officials reported that over the previous week their soldiers had escorted a dozen Turkish Special Forces troops to the border after discovering them in an aid convoy that had entered Iraq from Turkey. The officials said they had seized military equipment, including dozens of assault rifles, hidden among the aid supplies. They also uncovered banners of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the main political party of the Turkmen nationality.

Turkmen are about 5 percent of the Iraqi population. Turkmen Front official Kemal Yaycili said that in light of the expulsion of several hundred Turkmen from Kirkuk, and the shooting deaths of some nine others in the area, "We have a right to ask for help from the outside."

The Turkish government has assembled troops near its border with northern Iraq as a bulwark against any upsurge in the movement for an independent republic among the Kurdish people in the region. The Kurdish population spans Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Armenia, and Syria, and has been denied its national rights by both the capitalist governments of the region and the competing imperialist powers.

Ankara is a member of the U.S.-dominated NATO, and boasts the largest armed forces among the military alliance’s European members. At Washington’s order, it held off any large-scale breach of its border with Iraq during the invasion and war.

Today the U.S.-led military occupation of Iraq is based on some 120,000 ground troops, including the 101st Airborne Division north of Mosul near the Turkish order; the Fourth Infantry Division around Tikrit and Kirkuk in the north; the Third Infantry Division around Baghdad; and the Marines in the south, along with tens of thousands of British troops, who are concentrated in and around Basra.

In Baghdad, the imperialist occupiers have sought to curb various capitalist politicians who have stepped into the political vacuum left by the regime’s downfall. "The coalition alone retains absolute authority in Iraq," stated a proclamation issued April 23 by Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of the U.S. and British ground forces, that was directed at Muhammad Mohsen Zobeidi and Ahmed Chalabi, two former exile politicians who have benefited from U.S. backing.

Accusing Chalabi and Zobeidi of taking credit for a railway construction project undertaken by the occupying forces, Maj. Gen. Albert Whitley warned, "Nobody has authority unless General McKiernan says so. Mr. Zobeidi and Mr. Chalabi have no authority. If we say you run the railroad, you run the railroad." Whitley is the senior British officer in the U.S. general’s command.

Nevertheless, Chalabi, who has enjoyed strong backing from Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials, was among the Iraqi politicians invited to "planning sessions" convened by Garner in Nasiriya April 28. Representatives of the KDP, the KUP, the pro-Iran Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Iraqi National Accord, were also invited, said U.S. officials.

Stalinist party issues newspaper

The Iraqi Communist Party, which had largely functioned in exile for decades, is one of the political groups that have reemerged. The first publicly circulated issue of its newspaper appeared April 20.

"At last--the bloody, barbaric and repressive regime of Saddam Hussein has fallen!" the statement began. "With the collapse of the tyrant and his regime, the hopes and will of the overwhelming majority of our Iraqi people have been fulfilled."

While the article condemned "the war and the tragedies which it left behind," it left little doubt that the party considers the imperialist occupation to be a lesser evil than the maintenance of Saddam Hussein’s rule. While criticizing the occupying forces for failing to provide "clean water, electricity, medicine and food" and to stop the looting, the CP paper stated, "There is no doubt that it was the invasion...which made it possible to smash the regime’s military capabilities." The writers also called for "an interim UN administration" that would supervise the construction of a "coalition government."

Although the Iraqi CP was forced underground for long periods by the Baathist regime, party leaders served in Hussein’s cabinet for a period from 1972, following the signing of a 15-year treaty with Moscow. True to its Stalinist politics, the CP supported the regime’s crushing of a Kurdish rebellion. The Kurdish fighters were "hostile to the progressive political line of the national authority," wrote the party’s leader of the time.
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