Picture appearing to show ISIS militants loading captives into a truck.
The following article, by Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty, carries weight because it is largely based upon interviews with representatives of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq and the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan. It first appeared in the AWL’s paper Solidarity:
On Wednesday 11 June, the Al-Qaeda-oriented Sunni Islamist group ISIS seized control of Iraq’s second-biggest city, Mosul.
It has taken several other cities in the Sunni-majority north and west. Before 11 June it already had control of Fallujah and much of Ramadi, and of significant areas in Syria.
Nadia Mahmood of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq told Solidarity:
“What’s going on now with ISIS is a new phase of the sectarian violence which reached its peak in 2006-7 with the bombings in Samarra”.
That simmering sectarian civil war died down in 2007-8 and after. But, said Nadia: “After the Arab Spring [in 2011], the Sunni [minority in Arab Iraq] became more assertive.
“In 2013, [Iraq's Shia-Islamist prime minister] Maliki ended the [peaceful, and not sharply Islamist] protest camps outside the roads to Fallujah and ignored their demands.
“Now in 2014, after the election two months ago, Maliki wants to stay in power and has marginalised even the other Shia parties.
“Because of the sectarian nature of the government, this sort of violence will happen again and again. Socialists need to call for a secular state.
“The left and the labour movement in Iraq are not powerful right now, so first of all we need a secular state without religious identity which will give us ground to build. The target now is to end the sectarian nature of the state”.
Some of the roots of this collapse of the Iraqi state lie in what the USA did after invading in 2003. It disbanded much of the Iraqi state machine, including low-ranking people, and promoted “de-Baathification”.
At first the USA hoped that pro-US and relatively secular people like Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi would create a pro-US Iraqi government. But those neo-liberals turned out to be good at schmoozing US officials while in exile, hopeless at winning support from Iraqis in Iraq.
Amid the chaos and rancour which followed the invasion and the destruction of everyday governance, the mosques and the Islamist factions won hegemony.
The US adapted and worked with people like Maliki. As Aso Kamal of the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan told Solidarity: “The Americans made a political system that depended on balancing three ethnic and sectarian identities.
“Iraq had been a modern society, with sectarian divisions not so deep. These events are the product of the new system America brought to Iraq. Especially with other powers like Turkey and Iran intervening, seeking their allies within the Iraqi system, it has been a disaster”. Now Saudi Arabia has seized on the current crisis to call for the fall of Maliki and his replacement by “a government of national consensus”.
Nadia Mahmood explained: “I think some of the Ba’thists saw the de-Ba’thification policy as targeting Sunnis more than Ba’thists. In fact there were Shia Ba’thists who held powerful positions in the state, and they were protected because they were Shia.
“So the Sunni Ba’athists went to the Sunni side and the Islamist side, not the Ba’thist side. They held to their religious identity”.
According to Aso Kamal, Maliki’s government is seen as a Shia government, and that rallies groups like ISIS and ex-Ba’thists against it.
For us in Workers’ Liberty, the horrible events confirm the arguments we made during the previous simmering sectarian civil war in Iraq (especially 2006-7) for slogans of support for the Iraqi labour movement and democracy against both the US forces and the sectarian militias, not the negative slogan “troops out”. The two-word recipe “troops out” then certainly entailed a sectarian collapse like this one, only worse. Now it is happening, even those who previously most ardently insisted that anti-Americanism must be the first step, and everything else could be be sorted out later, dare not hail the ISIS advance and the Shia counter-mobilisation as “liberation” or “anti-imperialism”.
Of course, rejecting the slogan “troops out” did not mean supporting the US, any more than being dismayed at the ISIS advance means endorsing Maliki.
The sudden collapse of the Iraqi army as the relatively small ISIS force advanced shows how corrupt and discredited the state has become.
Nadia Mahmood explained: “Soldiers from Mosul were saying that even when ISIS were still far away from the city, the leaders of the army took off their military clothes and left the soldiers. The Mayor of Mosul told the soldiers to leave. Some of the soldiers are saying that there was a deal”.
The knock-on effect of the ISIS victories is a sharpening on the other side of Shia sectarianism. As Nadia Mahmood says: “Now the Shia political parties are becoming closer to each other and calling for resistance. There is a sectarian agenda against the Sunni”. Aso Kamal adds: “Sistani and Maliki are also calling for a holy war. This is taking Iraq back centuries. It could become like Somalia. That will destroy the working class. It is a very dark scenario”.
Workers’ Liberty believes that defence of the labour movement in Iraq, which will be crushed wherever ISIS rules and in grave danger where the Shia Islamists are mobilising, should be a main slogan now, alongside the call for a secular state.
“ISIS”, says Aso Kamal, “have announced what they are going to do. Women must stay at home. Nothing must be taught in schools outside the Quran. There will be no freedom of speech. They are like the Taliban”.
“I’m not sure how ISIS came to Iraq”, says Nadia Mahmood, “and whether they are popular even amongst Sunnis. Maybe they are allied with the Ba’thists. But are there more Sunnis supporting them? Many Sunnis seem very scared and oppose ISIS.
“It is horrible what is going on”. But, now they have power and access to big arsenals, “ISIS may keep hold of the Sunni cities, such as Mosul and Tikrit, for some time. It’s obviously not the same for Baghdad.
“Bringing in Iranian groups to fight ISIS will only encourage sectarian discourse and maybe accelerate Shia-Sunni polarisation. Already Maliki is accused by ISIS, and by the Ba’thists, of being an Iranian agent. Whether Iranian intervention calms the situation or it worsens it is unclear.
“Many people in Iraq would prefer the United States to attack ISIS. They have come all the way from Mosul to 60km outside Baghdad, killing in their wake. I don’t know if they stay longer how many crimes they will commit, how many tragedies are going to happen. People in Baghdad feel very scared now”.
That doesn’t mean endorsing US bombing. The US’s 12 years of bombing in Afghanistan have not installed a secular state, but rebuilt a base for the once-discredited Taliban.
As Aso Kamal explains: “The Americans have a common front against ISIS now. But the Americans are playing with both sides. They do whatever they think will stabilise the region and the markets, and ignore the future of the people. In reality, they are supporting reactionary forces in Iraq.
“The effect of the developing sectarian war will be to inflame nationalism in Kurdistan. Already the KDP and the PUK [the main parties] are asking people to support them in order to keep the territory which Kurdish forces have conquered”.
For the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, “the main issue is to keep Kurdistan separate from this war. We say there should be a referendum and independence for [Iraqi] Kurdistan”.
Registering for Aliya, Baghdad, 1950 Landing in Israel
Sami Ramadani is a periodic contributor to the Guardian, always billed as “a political refugee from Sadam Hussain’s regime.” In fact, that billing doesn’t really do him justice: during the Iraq war he was a supporter of the murderous, anti-working class Iraqi “resistance” and is a demagogue, much loved by the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’, who routinely blames the “West” and “Zionists” for all the ills of Iraq in particular, and the Middle East in general.
Shiraz has commented on his politics in the past.
In his latest Guardian piece, arguing that prior to the 2003 occupation, there was no “significant communal fighting between Iraq’s religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities”, Ramadani mentions two incidents that would seem to contradict his thesis:
“[T]he only incident was the 1941 violent looting of Jewish neighbourhoods – still shrouded in mystery as to who planned it. The bombing of synagogues in Baghdad in 1950-51 turned out to be the work of Zionists to frighten Iraq’s Jews – one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world – into emigrating to Israel.”
I’ll leave aside the 1941 looting for now (though, whether by accident or design, it’s worth noting that Ramadani’s choice of words would lead the uniformed reader to assume that it, too, was probably the work of “Zionists”).
What I want to discuss here, is Ramadani’s bald statement that the 1950-51 bombings “turned out to be the work of Zionists”, as though that is an established, incontrovertible fact. Far from it: the matter is hotly disputed to this day, as a visit to Wikipedia will confirm. I want to make it clear that I am not ruling out the possibility that the bombings (or, perhaps, just some of them) were the work of Zionists, either operating on a free-lance basis or under orders from the Israeli leadership. But that thesis is far from being the established fact that Ramadani makes it out to be, as a glance at Wikipedia will confirm.
It is generally acknowledged that the two best accounts of the bombings, arguing diametrically opposed positions, are by Abbas Shiblack, in his 1989 book The Lure of Zion: The Case of the Iraqi Jews (later slightly revised and republished as The Iraq Jews: A History of Mss Exodus), who argues that Zionists were responsible, and Moshe Gat’s The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951 which presents the case for Arab nationalist responsibility. They also disagree on the question of how important the bombings were in causing the exodus of Jews from Iraq.
The two accounts were analysed and weighed up against each other in a review of Shiblack’s book by Rayyan Al-Shawat, writing in the Winter 2006 edition of Democratiya magazine:
The other significant study of this subject is Moshe Gat’s The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951, which was published in 1997. A shorter encapsulation
of Gat’s argument can be found in his 2000 Israel Affairs article ‘Between Terror and Emigration: The Case of Iraqi Jewry.’ Because of the diametrically opposed conclusions arrived at by the authors, it is useful to compare and contrast their accounts. In fact, Gat explicitly refuted many of Shiblak’s assertions as early as 1987, in his Immigrants and Minorities review of Shiblak’s The Lure of Zion. It is unclear why Shiblak has very conspicuously chosen to ignore Gat’s criticisms and his pointing out of errors in the initial version of the book. The republication of Shiblak’s book 19 years after its first printing afforded him the opportunity to enact revisions, but where modifications were made they are minor, and almost no corrections are to be found. This article will highlight the major differences…
Al-Shawat’s admirably objective and even-handed article concludes as follows:
It is likely that we will never know for sure who the perpetrators of the attacks were.
As for the final word on the effect of the bombs, it is distressing to note that neither
Shiblak nor Gat saw fit to conduct a survey among surviving Iraqi Jewish emigrants
in order to ascertain, in the emigrants’ own words, their reasons for leaving Iraq.
This would have been of inestimable value in determining whether or not the
bombings were in fact the main reason for the exodus. Without evidence, Iraqi
Jews are not necessarily more qualified than anyone else to opine as to the identity
of the terrorists responsible for the bombs. Yet who could be more qualified than Iraqi Jews to explain which factors impelled them to leave Iraq for Israel?!
There is much anecdotal evidence to support the contention that the bombings – whoever
perpetrated them – were the decisive factor behind Iraqi Jews’ emigration. Personal
testimonies to this effect abound. Yet, inexcusably, there has apparently been no
organised effort to collate such testimonies within the framework of a scientific
survey. Though Shiblak cannot prove that Zionist emissaries from Israel were responsible for the bombings, he succeeds in demonstrating that these bombings were a major factor in the flight of Iraqi Jewry. Had Shiblak included a scientifically conducted survey of explanations provided by Iraqi Jews as to why they left, results might have proved that the bombings were the overriding reason – and not simply a major factor behind the exodus.
That seems to me to be a fair and balanced conclusion – ie: we simply don’t know who was responsible. But for the likes of Ramdani that’s not good enough: the Zionists must be to blame for bombing the synagogues – just as they’re to blame for so much else…
Like most people, I’m watching in horror as Iraq disintegrates and the Islamist barbarians of ISIS continue to gain ground. I have no particularly profound insights to offer at the moment, so would recommend readers to check out the ever-reliable Juan Cole at the aptly-titled Informed Comment blog, and one Kyle Orton at this interesting blog, previously unknown to me.
Amnesty International makes some interesting comparisons:
‘While Manning could face more than a century behind bars, numerous high-level officials … have been let off scot-free’ – Widney Brown
The US authorities have failed to deliver justice for serious human rights violations committed during counter-terror operations dating back more than a decade, Amnesty International said as the sentencing phase opened today in the military trial of the US Army Private Bradley Manning.
Manning, who exposed potential breaches of international humanitarian law and other violations by US forces, could face up to 136 years in prison after being convicted yesterday of 20 separate charges – including theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act.
Amnesty pointed out that, for example, high-ranking officials have avoided investigation for the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq in 2003-2004. While 11 low-ranking soldiers were sentenced to prison terms after being convicted in courts martial, they have all since been released. The Brigadier General in charge of the detention facility was reprimanded for dereliction of duty and demoted to Colonel.
Meanwhile, no criminal charges have ever been made in relation to the US secret detention programme where enforced disappearance and torture were authorised at the highest level of government, and details of the programme remain classified.
Amnesty International’s Senior Director of International Law and Policy Widney Brown said:
“There’s a stunning contrast between the extraordinarily severe sentence Bradley Manning could receive and the leniency or complete impunity enjoyed by those responsible for the types of grave human rights violations he exposed.
“It’s outrageous that the USA has failed to hold perpetrators criminally accountable despite credible allegations of torture, enforced disappearances and other crimes under international law in the context of counter-terror operations since September 11, 2001.
“While Manning could face more than a century behind bars, numerous high-level officials have never faced even the threat of investigations – in effect they have been let off scot-free. Even in cases where low-ranking soldiers have been convicted, they’ve received very light sentences.
“The US Attorney General is duty-bound to investigate these serious crimes under international law and bring those responsible to justice.
“The ongoing failure to do so is a festering injustice and a blight on the United States’ human rights record.”
Before handing down her sentence, the judge will hear Manning’s explanation of the motives for his actions. He was not able to present a public interest defence during the earlier phase of the trial, but he may be able to offer his reasons for the disclosures he made as a mitigating factor now. She will also hear the testimony of more than 40 witnesses brought by the prosecution and defence.
Amnesty will continue to monitor the sentencing phase of Manning’s trial in the coming days and weeks.
Above: Charles Lindbergh puts the Stop The War case for non-intervention in WW2
BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ is a pretty reliable barometer of middle-England, middle class opinion. These days, anyone on the panel who denounces intervention of any kind in overseas conflicts, can be guaranteed a big round of applause, regardless of whether the speaker is from the isolationist right or the ‘anti-imperialist’ left.
This week’s programme, inevitably, included a question about Syria, and the panel was unanimous in opposing the idea of arming the opposition, to the obvious approval of the audience. Right wing Tory isolationist Daniel Hannan put the non-intervention case most succinctly when he said “It’s not our business… in Syria we have no connections …we have no particular interest.”
Smug, shallow leftist commentator Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman and Huffington Post) chimed in with his familiar, sanctimonious riff along the lines of one sides’s as bad as the other … both sides have been accused of using chemical weapons … sending the rebels weapons or imposing a no-fly zone will just make matters worse…etc. etc…
Hannon, who made it clear that he agreed with Hasan’s isolationist conclusions, was honest enough to chip in with the following:
“A one-sided arms embargo is a form of intervention, as it was in Bosnia, as it was in the Spanish Civil War. If you’re allowing one side free access to global weaponry and denying the other [weapons] then you are in practice intervening.”
An important point, that the isolationist movement of both left and right rarely acknowledge. The assumption, all too often, is that only military intervention costs lives, while staying out of it saves lives. Patent nonsense, once you think about it, but that’s the presumption upon which people like the so-called Stop The War Coalition and their media stooges, expect us to accept their case.
Hopi Sen puts the contrary view very well in a recent piece on the cost of non-intervention in Syria:
The last decade has been a steady retreat from intervention.
We know why. We saw the terrible costs of intervention first hand, while the deaths of the Marsh Arabs, the repression of the Kurds, the brutality of Saddam’s regime (and yes, our real-politik driven complicity in that regime) were somehow forgotten. We even managed to forget that the cost of containment was a society trapped by sanctions, a price worth paying for the containment of a regime we did not wish to overthrow.
Yet now, in Syria, we also see the price of inaction.
I make the following comparison not to compare the loss, or the war, or the justice of either, but to compare our reaction to each.
The rate of violent death in Syria is already more than double that in the bloodiest year of the Iraq war. Around 170,000 have died in Iraq in the decade since the war. More than half that are dead in Syria already, and the violent deaths are increasing rapidly. Where is the outrage of the humanitarian left? Where are the marches and the vigils? The petitions and the disbelief? Where are the Anti-War Marches?
Further, doing nothing has increased regional instability. Already Hizbollah are killing Syrian rebels, with who knows what consequences for Lebanon. Israel is both nervous of Islamism and of an unstable Syrian government. Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and Jordan are having to cope with some one and a half million refugees.
These are the results of the policy we chose.
Would things have been better if we had intervened directly? Would the slaughter have been less with a No Fly zone, or airstrikes on Syrian forces mounting aggression, or if we had supported secular, moderate rebels early? Would things have been better if we had even made it clear to Russia that there was some action that we would not tolerate?
That I can’t know, just as I cannot know what would have happened in Iraq this past decade if Saddam had been left to imprison and murder his people under a sanctions regime that killed innocent civilians in order to constrain their torturers.
No-one can really know “what if“.
The awful truth is that inaction and intervention both have terrible costs, and those who decide between them cannot ever truly know what will result. Some forgot that in the last decade, choosing to believe that only intervention could have a terrible price. I don’t forget the reverse now.
Just because the policy we have pursued has become a catastrophe does not mean the policy was undoubtedly and obviously wrong.
But by God, I wish we felt more shame for what we have not done for the people of Syria.
(Read the full article here)
Above: the explanation?
All too predicatably, the usual suspects have rushed to explain the Woolwich killing by means of the so-called ‘blowback‘ argument (utilised with varying degrees of obvious gloating). Comrade Clive dealt with this back in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 7/7 bombings. Obviously, the 7/7 attacks were somewhat different to what happened in Woolwich (though it seems likely that the Woolwich perpetrators intended to commit ‘suicide by police’), but I think Clive’s essential case remains incontrovertible – JD:
‘Blowback': a banal non-explanation
Just a note on the ‘blowback’ argument, which is put a bit less crudely in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Whereas the SWP/Galloway version of this just ritually nods at condemnation of the bombings, Younge seems more sincere, ‘to explain is not to condone’, etc. And, of course, presented with a ‘war on terror’ which is supposed to reduce terrorist attacks against us, it is not unreasonable to point out that, so far, this has not succeeded (I think, logically, this argument only runs so far, since nobody has suggested that the ‘war on terror’ will prevent terrorism until it is actually won; but there is some rhetorical force to this point).
And of course, if you think of the Beslan massacre, for example: you simply cannot account for the background to these events without explaining about Russian action in Chechnya. Clearly, Chechen Islamists did not materialise from nowhere, and there is a context to their existence. The same is true of Islamists elsewhere. Or to put this another way: of course if there were no real grievances to which Islamists could point, they would not be able to recruit anybody. Hamas would not be able to recruit young people and tell them to tie explosives to their chests and climb aboard buses, if the Palestinians were not actually oppressed and suffering grave injustices at the hands of the Israeli state.
But if this is all that is being said, surely it is banal. I suppose there may be some right wing crazies who think Hamas has grown among Palestinians purely because Arabs are bloodthirsty masochists or somesuch nonsense. But obviously, Hamas refers to real things in the real world to build its base, or it wouldn’t have one.
And the observation that there are actual grievances to which Islamists point as a way to recruit (or even, conceivably, that it is these grievances which motivate particular individuals to carry out atrocities) tells you absolutely nothing about the political character of the movement to which they are being recruited.
Of course it’s true, up to a point, that that the London bombs are connected to the British presence in Iraq. But this in itself is not an explanation for them. So if the ambition is to ‘explain but not condone’, you need to explain why people are recruited to these organisations – ones that want to blow up ordinary people on their way to work – rather than other ones. That bombs have dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan (or Jenin, or wherever) simply is not an explanation.
It would not be an explanation even if the organisations in question were identifiably nationalist, as opposed to salafi-jihadist. There have been plenty of colonial situations in the past which have produced armed struggle but not bombings of this kind.
But in any case they are not nationalist in the old sense, but something different – something whose political programme is not concerned with this or that grievance (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) but with restoring the Caliphate, instituting sharia law, punishing apostates, and so on. Moreover – and this seems to me very important indeed – as far as the most extreme of these groups go, like the one presumably responsible for 7/7 – they are what can reasonably be called death cults. If the aim is explanation, then you need to tell us why this backward-looking death cult has prevailed over the old-style nationalists (not to mention more leftist movements – just to type the words tells you the fall of Stalinism has something to do with it), and so on.
And once you have identified the political character of these movements – what do you propose to do about it? We can withdraw from Iraq. But if you think withdrawal from Iraq will mean the jihadists will disappear from the Iraqi political landscape, I think you are deceiving yourself. There are much deeper social grievances which animate the militant Islamist movements, to do with the exclusion of the middle class from economic and political power, the decline of the old social classes, etc. Those social questions need to be addressed. And they need to be addressed by radical, democratic movements in those societies.
And, of course, Islamists – of all types – are the militant enemies of democratic movements and of democracy itself. Either you recognise the need to fight alongside democratic movements against the militant Islamists, in Iraq and elsewhere (including within Muslim communities here, of course) or…what? Even the more sophisticated blowback argument of the Gary Younge variety gives no sense of identifying the militant Islamists as our enemy – the enemy of socialists, of democrats, of feminists, of women in general, of lesbians and gay men, of trade unionists, and so on, both in the ‘Muslim world’ and on our doorstep. It criticises the method of fighting terror adopted by our governments, but as though there was simply no need to fight it at all. Read the rest of this entry »
Prof Norm reminds us that:
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the attack on Halabja :
On March 16, 1988, 5,000 Kurds died in the city and 10,000 were injured after a seven-hour bombardment by Saddam Hussein’s jets and artillery. The population was blanketed with blood, nerve and blister agents in the worst chemical attack on a civilian population since the Second World War.
The poet Choman Hardi has written this poem, ‘Yek deqiqe bo Halabja’, to commemorate the dead. On her Facebook page she says that the poem is ‘dedicated to the memory of the victims who, because of circulating images of their mutilated bodies, seem to have disappeared from our consciousness as human beings, their value seems to be reduced to their victimhood.’
Like many readers of this blog, I was there on 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, nor the slightly more forgivable solipsism of Laurie Penny (who at least has -or had- the excuse of youth). Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the Stop The War Coalition into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.
Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, puts his finger (in the present issue of the New Statesman – no link presently available) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively puts it down to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:
“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”
I can remember stumbling across the following searingly honest ‘Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local Stop The War email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well as I recall:
The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To
By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)
I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?
Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.
What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?
It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.
As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.
Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?
Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.
I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.
Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.
It is not easy for me to write these words.
I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.
But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.
I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.
But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.
Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.
Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.
From the archives: Galloway’s boot-licking and kow-towing to “strong”, “courageous”, “indefatigable”, bloody butchers.
Matgamna on Galloway, May 2003:
There is a strong case for dismissing the charges made by the Tory Daily Telegraph and others against George Galloway, of having been a bought and paid-for agent of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq – namely, the character and bias of those baying for the blood of an MP who has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the recent US-British war with Iraq.
The Telegraph has published documents which appear to show that Galloway had been taking at least £375,000 a year from Saddam Hussein’s quasi-fascist Ba’ath regime in Iraq.
He is being investigated by the Charities Commission for his use of moneys collected by the “Mariam Appeal”, which he founded.
The putrid Sun has joined in the outcry against Galloway; the News of the World has unearthed a story involving Galloway in sex and conspicuous consumption in Cuba. And so on.
On principle, no-one should trust those who are in full cry against Galloway.
Galloway’s recent associates in the campaign against Blair’s and Bush’s war have defended him. The editor of Tribune, Mark Seddon, wrote in the Times. Tony Benn has indignantly defended Galloway against the charge that he is corrupt and paid by Saddam Hussein.
Socialist Worker has said: “The pro-war press owners are trying to smear George Galloway MP and, through him, the anti-war movement… Even if every word the Telegraph alleges were true it still would not justify the paper’s headline.”
The Stop The War Coalition “publicly expresses its full support for George Galloway and regards the attacks on him – which he has announced he will challenge in the courts – as a politically-inspired witch-hunt”. Tariq Ali, the grizzled but still determinedly, perennially trendy anti-war campaigner, has appeared on TV to defend Galloway.
Yet if Galloway has been a paid agent of the Iraqi regime, it would make political sense out of something that, otherwise, is incomprehensible. How could Galloway, an old-style Scots tankie Stalinist who still mourns the collapse of the USSR, identify with the Saddam regime which, among other things, has repressed and massacred the Communist Party of Iraq?
In political terms it is a sin against nature for someone with Galloway’s background to hold the Saddam regime in anything other than wholehearted loathing. Galloway started out as a Stalinist critic of Ba’athist Iraq. As he sometimes reminds us, he denounced the massacre of Kurds at Halabja in 1988. To oppose the 1991 or 2003 Gulf wars he need not have made any shift to “softness” towards the Iraqi Hitler in Baghdad.
Yet, for a decade now, Galloway has got himself described in Britain as “the MP for Baghdad Central”, or (by a Government minister last year in the House of Commons) as an “apologist and a mouthpiece” for Ba’athist Iraq.
In January 1994, Galloway appeared before the butcher of Iraqis and Kurds, the initiator of the very bloody eight-year war with Iran, the invader of Kuwait, and, his voice and body-language conveying respect and awe, told him: “Sir we salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability… We are with you. Until victory! Until Jerusalem!”
In 2002 he interviewed Saddam Hussein and came out to tell the world (Mail on Sunday, 11 August 2002) that the “shy” dictator with the “gentle handshake” loves British chocolates. In 1998 he told the New Worker, newspaper of the unrepentantly Stalinist New Communist Party, that: “The politicised people – which are quite widespread; the mass organisations and the Ba’ath Party which is extremely well-organised and deeply rooted now in Iraq… [have] high morale. High levels of motivation and mobilisation. A high spirit of resistance. Certainly an acute consciousness of who the real villains of the piece are…”
The situation was spoiled by “the vicious effect of elements of the Iraqi opposition, who should know better. They’ve so poisoned the well of potential good-will to the Iraqi people in this country…
“We have a situation where sections of the Iraqi Communist Party, for entirely understandable reasons – they’ve been subject to massive repression – have allowed themselves to be put into a pro-imperialist position… The Iraqi Communist Party and CARDRI (Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq) have ended up defending imperialism”. (8 August 1998).
Galloway has occasionally said that he is against “dictatorships” like Saddam Hussein’s, but it has been something perfunctory, “for the record”, with no consequences for his championing of Saddam’s Iraq.
If Galloway did all that for money, then something otherwise politically incomprehensible makes good, though disgusting, old-fashioned sense. Otherwise, you have to look for an explanation in terms of a peculiarly twisted psychology. You have to speculate about the shifts an old-style Stalinist has been driven to in order to gratify his taste for boot-licking and kow-towing to “strong”, “courageous”, “indefatigable”, powerful, bloody butchers.
Of course we don’t know whether what the Daily Telegraph says about Galloway is true or not. Galloway has, it seems, now accepted that the documents were found in the Baghdad building: he only denies that what they say is true. He has threatened the Daily Telegraph with a libel suit, though so far – and he has been notoriously quick on the draw with libel suits – only threatened.
For the politics of the affair as they affect the left and the fake left we do not have to wait for a libel court to pronounce. In his public self-defence Galloway has made available facts about his affairs which would shame and embarrass, if they were capable of shame and embarrassment, those who put him up on the platforms of the anti-war movement.
How was the paper East, which Galloway published for a period in the 1990s, financed? By the Pakistani government, for its own political ends, or so several newspapers have reported without Galloway contradicting them.
Were the funds donated to the “Mariam Appeal” – which appealed for funds to provide medical assistance for needy Iraqis like the little girl with leukemia after whom it was named – used to finance Galloway’s globe-trotting? Yes, replies Galloway, most of the funds were used for “political campaigning”, like his trips to Iraq (“maybe 100″ of them in 1993-2002, so he told Islamonline.net).
Was the Mariam Appeal used to channel Iraqi-originated money? Galloway has responded by stating that the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and a businessman in Jordan with Iraqi links, provided most of the funds.
Did Galloway, as the Telegraph documents say, meet a junior Iraqi intelligence agent? Why should I do such a thing, responds Galloway, when I had access to the top leaders in Baghdad. He tells us that he spent Christmas Day recently as the guest of Saddam Hussein’s deputy Tariq Aziz. And so on.
Even if there was nothing financially corrupt in Galloway’s relations with the Iraqi regime, even if he was not a venal self-server but only a confused and disoriented Stalinist moron, the story he tells in his defence against the Telegraph’s charges pose a major question for his associates on the left.
What were you doing working with such a man, whose general attitude towards Saddam Hussein’s quasi-fascist Iraqi government you knew perfectly well? Have you forgotten who and what you are in politics – you who call yourselves “Marxists”, “socialists” and “Trotskyists”? Don’t you care? Have you lost your political wits?
Or is it that you think that someone whom junior minister Ben Bradshaw, in the House of Commons, plausibly calls a “mouthpiece” and an “apologist” for the Ba’athist regime is nowadays just one more variety of bona fide left-winger?
For example, who is Tariq Aziz? He has been Saddam’s lieutenant for decades, during which time Saddam Hussein has done far worse things to the peoples of Iraq – in the first place to the Iraqi working class – than Hitler did to Germans, not excluding Jewish Germans, before World War Two. Saddam and Tariq Aziz imposed and maintained a totalitarian regime that systematically deprived the people living under them of all civil rights, uprooted and destroyed the elements of an independent working-class movement, killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds…
Who in Hitler’s entourage would have been the equivalent of Tariq Aziz? Rudolf Hess? Martin Bormann? Josef Goebbels? Hermann Goering? Joachim von Ribbentrop? What would you think of a 1930s socialist – or for that matter a 1930s Liberal or Tory – who would reply to the charge that he had contact with a lowly Nazi agent by boasting that he couldn’t need such contacts because he had been Hess’s, or Bormann’s, or Goebbels’, or Goering’s, or Ribbentrop’s guest over the Christmas of 1938 or 1939? Would you have him on your anti-war platforms?
What would you think if he replied to accusations that he had received money from the Hitler government by saying that his political campaigns had instead been financed by, say, the Japanese government, or Mussolini, or Franco?
We were right to oppose the war. But our opposition should have been – and, so far as we could control it, should have been seen to have been – opposition to our own ruling class on the basis of independent working-class “third camp” rejection of Saddam Hussein no less than of Bush and Blair. “No to war, no to Saddam”.
Put at its weakest, the attitude of those who controlled the anti-war movement has been that it was perfectly all right to associate with the man widely identified as “the MP for Baghdad Central”. They saw nothing wrong in letting the anti-war movement be identified as a pro-Iraq movement, or in making it easy for such as the Daily Telegraph to smear us with George Galloway.
Of course, the same people saw nothing wrong in linking arms with the Islamic fundamentalist organisation, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), a front for the Muslim Brotherhood.
And it was not just in the anti-war movement. On 10 April the Socialist Alliance trade union committee (members of the SWP and Workers’ Power, and Alan Thornett of the ISG) decided that at trade union conferences this summer the Alliance should focus on getting in on fringe meetings led by Galloway.
There is a mystery in all this – a real and not a rhetorical mystery, that we are at a loss to understand. Why?
Nine years ago (27 January 1994) our predecessor Socialist Organiser carried an editorial entitled “The Old Left Continues To Rot”, in response to two events. One was the crazy suggestion by the black MP, the late Bernie Grant, that black people in Britain should be given money to persuade them to accept voluntary “repatriation”. The other was George Galloway’s appearance before Saddam Hussein – recorded by the BBC – to tell him how admirable he found his “courage”, etc.
Galloway’s performance in the presence of the mass murderer Saddam Hussein seemed to us to be an extreme case of a Stalinoid who had lost even the few political marbles he had had as an admirer of the USSR. We wrote: “Galloway should be thrown out by his local [Labour] party”.
Not quite a decade on, broad swathes of the erstwhile Marxist left have tainted themselves with what was then only the Galloway syndrome.
In the build-up to war, Tony Benn went to Iraq – initially employed by a never-launched TV company in which Galloway was involved – and delivered the sort of innocuous, respectful questions to Saddam Hussein that allowed him to come back to Britain with what was nothing other than a “party political broadcast” for Saddam.
Nobody will be able to accuse Benn of being a hired mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein. We do accuse him of contributing, through political foolishness, to the rot in the left that has progressed astonishingly in the last nine years.
Nine years ago, in political terms, George Galloway was an aberration, a freak. The left did not follow his lead, but tolerated him when it shouldn’t have. We commented: “It is possible for the honest left to get into such a state that nothing creates an impression… Standards collapse. Hopes of anything better go…
“Nobody knows what ‘left’ is any more, so anything goes. Judge not lest ye be judged! Do not react, lest that be ‘witch-hunting’, and lest ye too be witch-hunted….
“With that approach, the regeneration of the left will prove impossible”.
Today the left which then culpably tolerated Galloway is not too far from identifying with him. For example, in response to a protest from Workers’ Liberty against the Socialist Alliance trade union committee’s decision, the committee’s secretary writes: “I completely disagree with your assessment of Galloway’s politics on Iraq. I agree with him considerably more than I agree with your organisation…”
Whatever the jury and judge in an eventual Telegraph libel case may conclude about Galloway’s motivation in championing Saddam’s Iraq, the “left” described here is not bought. It is suicidally confused.
In regard to Iraq, there is an element of inverted chauvinism expressed in the attitude: “This is a Third World country. What else can you expect?” The same attitude finds expression within Britain in a manipulative, superior attitude to the Islamic population here – the view that they can only be approached and mobilised through their own reactionaries, the Muslim Brotherhood. What better can you expect?
We are faced here with a political, moral, and intellectual collapse of the old left, and with the cumulative result that the “left” no longer knows quite what its own identity is. How and why has this happened?
Isn’t it that much of the left, or more accurately the pseudo-left, no longer defines itself positively, in terms of what it is for? No longer measures political organisations, classes and regimes by how they relate to what we ourselves fight for?
Instead, the “left” defines itself negatively, by what it is against. It is against capitalism. Against imperialism. Against America. It is on the side of whomever at any given moment is against them – on the side, even, of those who are worse. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was certainly worse.
Of course socialists could not have had any confidence in, or given support to, the US and Britain. But still less could we give anything like support to the quasi-fascist regime in Baghdad.
Again and again the post-USSR left – the pseudo-left, the fake left – lets itself be pushed by its antagonism to the dominant powers into supporting worse. If going for “the best” can sometimes be the enemy of going for the merely better, here opposition to the bad, to the enemy at home, to the immediate enemy, becomes, again and again, support for the worse overseas!
It happened in the Afghan war of 2001, when in antagonism to the Americans Socialist Worker let itself half-apologise for the Afghan Taliban regime’s treatment of women (6 October 2001).
Most terribly, it happened in 1999 with the Balkans war. Opposition to “imperialism” – to one imperialism – led the fake left to line up with the primitive Serbian imperialism at the point where it was trying to sweep Kosova clean of its Albanian population (90% of Kosovars).
Never mind the unproven charge that George Galloway took money from Saddam Hussein. Socialists, or even half-decent liberals, who do not feel embarrassed by the things George Galloway admits to, who do not feel shame at having had Tariq Aziz’s Christmas house guest on their anti-war platforms – those socialists have lost the plot. To call them socialists without some qualifying adjective like “fake” is now an abuse of language..