Here we reproduce word-for-word the editorial from the issue of the Socialist (England & Wales) printed on 28 March 2003, the issue of our weekly paper that came out directly after US and UK troops were sent into Iraq. Obviously the Socialist Party could not peer into the future but as you can see we sought to arm our readers with both a perspective of how the processes might develop and with a programme for action to fight to end war.
On 20 March 2018 it will be 15 years since we woke up to footage of the invasion of Iraq by US and UK forces. The Iraq War was an enormous charge detonated deep in the earth which has shaken and continues to contribute to the instability of millions of lives but also of all capitalist institutions and politics – on the left and right.
Capitalism is illegitimate
The distrust of the capitalist media was cemented by the lies about weapons of mass destruction and has been strengthened since. The Iraq invasion and its aftermath is a major factor in the crisis of legitimacy of capitalism across the world.
World relations have been transformed. Bush’s ‘New American Century’ foundered on the disaster of Iraq. Today the US is still the greatest military power but 2003’s unipolar world is no more and tensions between the different imperialist powers reverberate throughout the world – including trade wars and actual wars.
A quick war, ‘shock and awe’ was promised to deliver a new world and a flowering of democracy in the Middle East. Instead that war (and the world capitalist crisis of 2007-8 that it helped prepare) opened the way to multiple wars since and still today. Iraq itself knows no peace. A million died during the invasion.
From Sri Lanka in 2009 to Libya, to Yemen, Sudan to Afrin, and more – brutal regimes have taken Bush’s approach to the so-called ‘axis of evil’ as a licence to massacre. There are over 65 million refugees in the world. What a monstrous quantity of human suffering that figure represents.
What did bloom were the profits of the contractors who went in to Iraq. By 2013 the US had spent $138 billion on private security, logistics and reconstruction. By then the invasion was already estimated to have cost $2 trillion.
The US working class is paying that price – and for the bankers’ crisis of 2007-8. Trump’s 2019 budget proposes to cut food stamps by more than $213 billion over the next ten years.
An estimated 30 million marched in over 600 cities on the historic date of 15 February 2003. Two million had marched in Britain.
“No blood for oil” was the slogan adopted in particular by young people there and on the incredible school student strikes. That slogan reflected the understanding that the world’s capitalist powers prioritised profits over people.
But in the absence of a political voice, the movement fought with one hand tied behind its back.
Corbyn’s anti-war record was definitely a factor in his stunning 2015 victory in the Labour leadership election. Unfortunately the parliamentary Labour Party remains dominated by warmongers like Hilary Benn and Stella Creasy.
Today we need a movement to remove them as part of the fight for the mass socialist workers’ political voice we need to fight war, austerity and capitalism.
As we go to press, the battle for Baghdad seems about to begin. It is still too early to get an exact picture, but if the first phase of the war is anything to go by the next stage could be far from the ‘cakewalk’ that some military analysts predicted.
The US/British war plans have not kept to the script. Superior military airpower was meant to create such ‘shock and awe’ that the regime would crumble, troops surrender and Iraqis in the towns rise up and welcome US and British forces as ‘liberators’ from the tyrant Saddam Hussein.
Instead, up until now US and British troops have met with determined resistance, far fewer Iraqi soldiers have defected than was expected, while US and British casualties have been unexpectedly high.
Supply lines have come under attack and, according to Unicef, in Basra – a city of two million people – there has been no water or electricity and a humanitarian disaster is developing. At least 100,000 children under five are at risk from disease.
Fierce fighting was waged over Umm Qasr, a town of just 5,000 compared to a population of seven million in Baghdad.
Of course, the US has overwhelming military superiority. The US administration believes its vital interests are at stake and is determined to fight to the bitter end to overthrow the Iraqi regime. The battle for Baghdad could still result in the collapse of the regime and this phase of the war could be over relatively quickly.
However, US and British troops could also become bogged down in a drawn out, guerrilla style, hand-to-hand fighting, which could drag on for weeks and months. No one can be sure how much resistance US and British forces will face.
Although there is hatred for Saddam’s vicious regime, there appears also to be a willingness by significant sections of the population to fight what is perceived not as a liberating army but as a force of domination and conquest.
As one Iraqi returning from Jordan to Baghdad explained: “I’m not fighting for Saddam, I’m fighting for Iraq.” Iraqi ‘returnees’ have paid up to £1,000 for taxi rides back to Iraq to fight the ‘imperialist invaders’. Iraqi nationalism could prove to be a much greater force than US and British imperialism expected.
The situation could also be complicated by the ‘war within a war’ that could potentially break out between Turkish and Kurdish troops in the north.
A US opinion poll taken just after the war started found that 41% expected US casualties to be no more than 100. General McCaffney, a retired US general, said on Newsnight that with heavy fighting they could reach 2,000 to 3,000.
A lengthy, bloody war would have an effect on public opinion in the US and in Britain.
In both countries, as expected, the outbreak of war resulted in an initial decrease in opposition. There is a feeling among some people, encouraged by some ‘anti-war’ politicians like the Liberal Democrats, church leaders etc, that now that the war has begun they should ‘get behind’ the troops whose lives are being put at risk.
Nevertheless, two days after war broke out, an anti-war demonstration of between a quarter and half a million took place in New York, and a similar number protested in London – the biggest wartime demonstration in Britain.
Media commentators are speculating on how high the ‘pain threshold’ is in the US. If casualties mount in a prolonged conflict, the mood could swing rapidly back against war.
The ‘Vietnam syndrome’ has not been completely buried. After the Vietnam war, when 57,000 US troops were killed, US administrations had to be careful to avoid any military engagements that might result in significant US casualties.
If the war goes very badly and mass opposition grows, Bush and Blair could come under increased pressure to negotiate a ceasefire with the Iraqi regime. To do so would fatally damage both political leaders but cannot be completely ruled out if the war turns out to be much more brutal and protracted than originally anticipated.
It is vital then that we continue to build the anti-war movement. The mass protests that have so far taken place have not prevented or stopped the war. But they have affected the conduct of the war. Neither Bush nor Blair can afford to completely ignore public opinion.
The bombing of Baghdad has been a horrific experience for ordinary Iraqis and caused deaths and terrible injuries. But the bombing has not yet been completely indiscriminate.
As Major-General Peter Currie bluntly stated in the Daily Mirror: “We don’t want to reduce to rubble a country that we shall have to rebuild. “That is not the only reason. In a war so politically highly charged, which has divided the nation straight down the middle, collateral damage could be more than just costly – it could be catastrophic.” In other words, there are political limitations on the use of US military might. However, now that they have met resistance in towns such as Basra, bombing affecting civilians is taking place and this could grow in the battle for Baghdad. It is wrong to assume that nothing can be done now that the war has begun. However, the anti-war movement has to do more than “shout a bit louder,” as some leaders of the Stop the War Coalition have suggested.
We have to continue and extend the walkouts, protests and civil disobedience. But we also have to campaign now for decisive industrial action against the war. The school students have shown the way by their fantastic strike action on Day X. Workplace action was much more limited but there is much that can be done now to organise for future action. Left union leaders like Bob Crow of the RMT are opposed to war with Iraq and have pledged to support any workers who take action against it. They now have to be more proactive. They should immediately organise an anti-war conference of rank-and-file union members, union reps, executive committee members and general secretaries who support the Stop the War Coalition. Such a conference could discuss taking action against the war, including naming the date for a one-day strike. This would take the movement onto a new level that could challenge Blair and his support for this brutal imperialist war.