Socialist Worker

The truth about bombing Iraq

As Britain and the US lead yet another assault on Iraq, Socialist Worker takes apart some of the warmongers’ key arguments for intervention

Issue No. 2423

Some of the two million people who protested against attacking Iraq in 2003

Some of the two million people who protested against attacking Iraq in 2003 (Pic: Ray Smith)


How can the West stand by while people are dying?

Western rulers say they go to war to help ordinary people because they hope this will win them support.

Bloody wars and horrendous acts of oppression are taking place across the world. But the West only intervenes when it thinks it is in its interests to do so. It doesn’t do it out of humanitarian concern.

Arguing against war isn’t arguing for letting people die. Western wars will kill ordinary people and encourage more terrorism.


US air strikes in northern Iraq this summer

US air strikes in northern Iraq this summer (Pic: USAF)


Hasn’t the Iraqi government asked for this intervention?

The US and Britain claim they are bombing Iraq because the “democratically elected” Iraqi government requested it. But there is no democracy in Iraq.

When Iraq’s president removed hated prime minister Nouri al Maliki he was simply replaced by someone from the same Shia sectarian Islamic Dawa Party.

US “nation building” has entrenched sectarianism in the Iraqi state. It sought to divide and rule by giving different factions chunks of power. So the government is historically dominated by Shia sectarian parties, while the presidency has belonged to Kurdish parties.

Maliki created a personal fiefdom out of the state. Along with other politicians he appointed family members to key positions.

Working class Shia in the slums of Baghdad didn’t benefit one bit. 

The secular Ba’athist dictatorship under Saddam Hussein similarly looked after the interests of a narrow clique of top Sunni officials.

The current crisis has encouraged different ruling class interests to battle for control.

The West hopes to legitimise war by pointing to the “coalition” of Arab states that back it.

But it’s no surprise that rulers in Arab countries line up with imperialists. It doesn’t reflect what ordinary people in those countries want.


Aren’t the Iraqis too divided to resolve conflict by themselves?

Iraq is sliding into a sectarian civil war, but sectarianism has weak roots in Iraqi society. Western intervention has encouraged division.

There are two central branches of Islam in Iraq—Sunni Muslims and Shias. There is a tradition of unity against imperialism.

In 2004, the year after the West invaded Iraq, there was a unified uprising of opposition to Western occupiers. This brought together Sunni organisations and Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi army.

The West had to use divide and rule to smash up this resistance.

The US military engineered conflict between Sunni nationalist and Salafi currents, and other radical and sectarian Shia militias. In the north it encouraged the Kurdish minority to seek greater autonomy.

The firestorm it unleashed threatened to destroy any chance of stability in Iraq.


US planes over Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm

US planes over Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm (Pic: USAF)


Why are there so many wars in the Middle East?

“If Kuwait grew carrots, we wouldn’t give a damn,” said former US assistant defence secretary Lawrence Korb during the first Iraq war in 1991.

The Middle East has always been important for Western imperialism.

In the 19th century the region was at the centre of major trade routes with British India. Today it matters because of oil.

When the First World War ended British foreign secretary Lord Curzon commented, “The allies floated to victory on a wave of oil.”

He was talking about US gulf oil. But Middle Eastern oil was discovered as oil became central to the capitalist economy.

BP started pumping Iranian oil in 1908 and the 1918 imperial carve-up gave Britain an oil rich slice. Imperialist powers have used brutality to maintain their control.

When moderate Iranian prime minster Mosaddeqh tried to nationalise BP in 1953, the US and Britain backed a brutal coup. The West has backed up client dictatorships—and deposed them—to maintain their grip on oil.

Today the US produces its own oil and buys plenty from outside the Middle East. But it has to stop its competitors getting control of oil in the Middle East.

There has been a resurgence of oil production in Northern Iraq recently. Islamic State threatens that.


If the West doesn’t take on Islamic State, will there be more terrorism?

War will create more of the conditions that drive people towards terrorism.

Western imperialism has caused poverty, division and bloodshed across the Middle East. In the absence of a strong left, many people look to political Islam for an alternative.

Islamic State, the sectarian group formerly known as Isis, is one example of this. 

The West’s 2003 invasion of Iraq also boosted Al Qaida, which didn’t exist in Iraq until after the invasion.

Western intervention during the Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime led to the creation of multiple Islamist groups.


Could the bombing be targeted?

The warmongers’ “surgical strikes” often miss their targets—and the “targets” are often dubious. 

The US launched cruise missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998. 

They destroyed the Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, the main producer of cheap medicines in the country.

The US military acknowledged it wasn’t a chemical weapons factory.

One missile aimed at Afghanistan missed—and exploded 50 kilometres away in Pakistan.

In the mid 1990s the US and its allies bombed Serbia and Kosovo for 78 days. The US claimed that “99.6 percent of our bombs and missiles hit their targets”.

A US Air Force report, suppressed by the Pentagon, showed that bombs mainly hit civilians.


Tony Blair lied about weapons

Tony Blair lied about weapons (Pic: Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk)


Couldn’t intervention help keep dangerous weapons in check? 

Western rulers use panic over weapons for their own ends.

In the run-up to war in 2003, US president George Bush and Tony Blair claimed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 

None were found because this was a lie.

Last year they said something had to be done about Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Now there is silence.

Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons during the Iran/Iraq war in 1984 and when he gassed the Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988.

The West didn’t protest because Hussein was an ally. 

The US has used chemical weapons in Iraq, such as depleted uranium shells that can cause cancer.

In 2005 US and British forces bombarded the city of Fallujah with white phosphorus, a chemical that melts skin to the bone.

British forces used chemical bombs to put down a Kurdish rebellion in Mesopotamia, part of which became Iraq, in 1920.

“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas,” said Winston Churchill. 

“I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.”


Didn’t the last Iraq war get rid of a dictator and bring democracy?

Western wars have never brought freedom to people in the countries they attack.

The defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan brought more devastation. The US and its allies dropped more than 10,000 tons of bombs on Afghanistan. Afghan people still have no control over their country.

Iraq still has no democracy and is more unstable than it was before intervention.


Why are they really going to war again?

The US wanted the 2003 invasion of Iraq to intimidate anyone challenging US imperialism. It hoped Iraq would become a model of neoliberal economic success.

By December 2011, when the last US combat troops left, Iraq had replaced Vietnam as the symbol of imperial disaster. President Barack Obama’s strategy has been to “manage defeat”.

US leaders preferred sectarian division in Iraq to the mass movements and uprisings of the Arab Spring.

But the growth of Islamic State is threatening the unstable carve-up of the Middle East.

Now the West sees a threat and an opportunity in further intervention.


Egyptian revolutionaries protesting in Cairos Tahrir Square

Egyptian revolutionaries protesting in Cairo's Tahrir Square (Pic: Hossam el Hamalawy)


Does this show that socialism is impossible?

Socialists say ordinary people can change the world. But some say the divisions in the Middle East show that socialism is impossible.

Revolutionary socialists have a very different vision of society. Workers produce the wealth. They should control it and collectively plan the organisation of society.

All working class people —those who have to try and sell their labour power to get by—have the same interests against the bosses.

But class societies such as capitalism encourage divisions among workers.

People are not naturally hostile to each other because of religion or nationality. Divisions can be overcome in united struggle against the real enemy—the ruling classes.


If you enjoy Socialist Worker, please consider giving to our annual appeal to make sure we can maintain and develop our online and print versions of Socialist Worker. Go here for details and to donate.

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.