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   Vol. 67/No. 43           December 8, 2003  
What’s the ‘war on terrorism,’ resistance in Iraq?
(Reply to a Reader column)
In a letter in the December 1 Militant, reader Richard Young said a clearer explanation of Washington’s “war on terrorism” is needed. “Why is the U.S. spending huge material and human resources to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan?” he asked.

This has been a central feature of lead articles and editorials in the Militant this year. The Militant doesn’t assume, however, that readers go back to previous coverage. For a fighting working-class newsweekly seeking new readers constantly, frequent explanations of phrases such as “war on terror,” not assertions, are necessary. For this reason, Young’s question is very welcome. We’ll try to summarize the main points.

The lead editorial on Iran in the July 7 Militant stated: “Washington is leading an international coalition of imperialist powers and their allies under the banner of ‘smashing terrorism’ to defend the imperialist system and extend its domination. They are doing it by concentrating on their most vulnerable foes—armed opposition groups able to maintain themselves as an alternative because of the declining political prospects of the national bourgeoisies in the semicolonial world. The U.S. and other imperialist powers have wide support for going after all these groups that often carry out suicide bombing attacks and other similar such actions. There are no disagreements among the imperialist powers, or within bourgeois public opinion, on the policy of targeting ‘terrorists.’ Washington has kicked its French competitors around enough with the war on Iraq and is successfully pushing Paris to get back in line as a deputy sheriff helping to maintain the world imperialist order.”

In addition, Washington is going after states it accuses of “harboring terrorists,” including Iran and Syria, and, in a different form, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The editorial “Bring the troops home now!” in the March 24 Militant, written just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, explained the reasons for the imperialist attack on Iraq. They underlie the current occupation as well.

“This is not just a war for oil,” the editorial said, calling on working people to oppose not only the Anglo-American assault but the entire imperialist system and its wars. “It is about which among the competing imperialist powers will control the mineral and strategic Mideast platform that Iraq sits on. It is part of a wider conflict over the redivision of the former colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East among the ‘civilized hyenas’—as Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin aptly called the imperialist powers. This interimperialist conflict, with Washington-London on one side and Paris-Berlin on the other as the main unstable poles, is at the center of the ongoing UN-sanctioned assault on Iraqi sovereignty and the imminent U.S.-led invasion. This war is the first of a number of imperialist wars in coming years, as the capitalist system worldwide sinks deeper into a prolonged depression.”

It continued: “Far from being ‘Bush’s war,’ as the current situation is described by many critics of the current U.S. administration, the course has the full support of the entire U.S. ruling class. If U.S. forces succeed in taking over Iraq, Washington will have massive ground forces in place along the Afghanistan-Iran and Iraq-Iran borders. It will exercise domination of the Arab-Persian Gulf region and be in a much stronger position to threaten the ruling monarchy of Saudi Arabia to not take any further steps that contradict U.S. interests in the Middle East. Such an outcome would mean a significant economic and military shift in the relationship of forces in the world in favor of Washington.”

And that’s what happened. The U.S. government succeeded in achieving “regime change” and imposing a de facto American protectorate in Iraq. Paris, on the other hand—the most aggressive of Washington’s rivals, which pushed for regime continuity and no American protectorate in Iraq—came out the biggest loser among the gang of imperialist thieves.

This turn of events has exacerbated, not smoothed, the conflict between the competing imperialist blocs, as shown by the rivalry between the U.S. and European powers over forcing Iran to halt its nuclear plans.  
What’s the character of resistance to U.S. occupiers?
In his letter, Young also asked for “more coverage of the occupation [of Iraq] and the response of those fighting against it.” Recent Militant articles have outlined the current reality in Iraq and the aims of the occupiers. Young’s request, however, calls for addressing the character of the resistance in Iraq more explicitly.

A number of groups in the middle-class left have attempted to paint up resistance to the U.S. occupation as a national liberation movement. The most prominent among them in the United States is the Workers World Party. An article by Richard Becker in the May 15 Workers World, the party’s newspaper, concluded with the following: “Having achieved their victory…the occupiers now confront a people who have a long and proud history of resistance. The anti-war movement here and around the world must give its unconditional support to the Iraqi anti-colonial resistance.” A more recent article by Fred Goldstein in the November 6 Workers World stated, referring to the guerrilla attacks on U.S. and other occupation forces in Iraq, “The war of resistance is moving in the direction of a genuine people’s war with widespread popular support.”

The logic of these statements is a stance of political support for the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and favoring its return to power. The recent attacks on U.S., Italian, and other troops in Iraq have been largely carried out by remnants of the brutal party-police state the Baathist Party led, not a popular guerrilla force like the National Liberation Front of Vietnam that earned that popularity through its decades-long fight against French, Japanese, and U.S. imperialism. The attacks have been concentrated in the Sunni-dominated region of central Iraq, which had been the Baathist Party apparatus’s main stronghold. That’s why the claims by the U.S. forces of support or at least acceptance of their occupation by many, if not most, Iraqis are not simply a hoax.

Most news reports from Iraq show that U.S. forces have faced far fewer attacks in southern Iraq than they have in the Sunni heartland.

The reason is that much of the population in the south is from the Shiite Islamic majority and had faced fierce discrimination from Iraq’s predominantly Sunni ruling clique, including bloody repression by the Hussein regime during the Shiite rebellions at the end of the 1991 U.S-led Gulf War.

A November 24 New York Times article stated, “Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite group, has established a significant presence in Iraq, but is not taking part in attacks on American forces inside the country…. Iran is believed to be restraining Hezbollah from attacking American troops.” Tehran fears Washington’s concerted efforts to undermine Iranian sovereignty and push for another “regime change” in the region.

Not only in Iraq and Iran but throughout the Mideast, anti-imperialist-minded workers and farmers have no leadership that represents their interests. Decades of Stalinist counterrevolutionary policies, both by Moscow and by Stalinist organizations throughout the Middle East, created a void that bourgeois nationalist organizations waving Islamic banners fill today—groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and al-Qaeda, which have nothing in common with the popular liberation movements that marked an earlier period.

Years of Stalinist betrayals in Iraq helped pave the way for the Baathist regime to come to power, which under Hussein beheaded the 1958 popular democratic revolution and dealt crushing blows to the working class.

As the editorial in the November 17 Militant put it, “Revolutionists in Iraq today would fight for Iraqi sovereignty, which the U.S. armed forces prevent. At the same time, they would be opposed to the return of the Baathist regime. They would use whatever civic space exists to build and consolidate a revolutionary organization that could lead working people there down the road to get rid of the U.S. troops and keep the United Nations out as well.”  
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