#61 - Against Western war threats and scaremongering - Hands off Irak!

October 2002


At this point in time, we don't know what the result of all this war rhetoric against Iraq will be.

After his initial "go-it-alone" posturing, Bush toned down this aggressive line. In his first speech to the United Nations, on 16 September, he said he was committed to "work with the Security Council." Contrary to Downing Street's claims, this shift was certainly not due to Blair's "good advice." But it was certainly an attempt by Bush to gain some legitimacy for his war mongering and was a concession to US public opinion. Of course, this concession merely moves the goal posts. The threat of war against Iraq still stands and the content of the policy advocated by Washington and London remains the same.

Indeed, Bush said very clearly that should the UN fail to yield to US demands, he was determined to go it alone along with whoever was prepared to follow him - meaning Blair. Besides, the draft resolution that Bush and Blair plan to put to the UN Security Council has been designed to be unacceptable for Iraq. Not only does it set stringent deadlines for Iraq to comply with any requests the arms inspectors may have, but it also gives the US (as any other member state of the Security Council) the right to direct all the activities of the weapons inspectors, including to take individuals out of Iraq "for questioning." It provides, for instance, for the setting up of "no-drive" zones for Iraqi forces, in addition to the existing "no-fly" zones, which already include 2/3 of the Iraqi territory and for army units to go into Iraq with the inspectors. And, of course, this draft resolution also says that "all necessary means" should be used against Iraq in case of non-compliance - thereby providing Bush and Blair with the "legitimate" cover they want for launching military operations against Iraq if and when they choose to, under the pretext of enforcing this UN resolution.

For the time being this manoeuvre is meeting some resistance. The other Security Council members - France, Russia and China - refused to endorse it. But even with a watered down version of this draft resolution, or just the old resolutions passed in the 1990s, the US leaders could still manage to justify stepping up military action. One only has to remember the cynical build up leading to "Operation Desert Fox", in 1998. The saga of the UN arms inspections, in the run-up to this operation, showed how easy it was for the US to manipulate the demands and targets so that they could never be met by the Iraqi regime. Having "proved" that Saddam Hussein refused to comply, Clinton did not bother to ask for UN permission to retaliate - he just did it, by bombing the country's industrial and energy facilities for four days non-stop, and Blair was only too happy to oblige by providing a few RAF Harriers. When confronted with this fait accompli, France, Russia and China did nothing, not even symbolically. And the odds are, that if tomorrow the US embarks on a military venture against Iraq, the world's minor powers will play along with it, just as Blair pledges to do and mostly for the same reasons - in order to get some crumbs out of the loot for their own companies once the dust of war has finally settled.

This is to say that Bush's apparent willingness to defer to the UN should not be seen as a retreat on his part, but rather as a different wrapper on the same Pandora's box. Nor should the fact that the UN is taking over the role of dealing with Iraq's so-called "weapons of mass destruction" be seen as a "lesser of two evils", let alone a reassuring development. The UN is, after all, nothing but a "den of thieves", run by the imperialist powers for the benefit of imperialist interests, to use Lenin's phrase. And it should be remembered that it is under the auspices of the UN that the Iraqi population was subjected first to the Gulf War and then to 12 years of bombings and economic sanctions - a so-called "low-level" war which has claimed many more victims than the Gulf War itself. This is why those who are calling for the UN to take control over the Iraq issue, are at best deluding themselves that this may contain Bush's war mongering, and at worst seeking to cover up yet another full-scale attack against the Iraqi population.

What is at stake?

At this stage, it would be pointless to risk a prognosis on how far Bush will go. There is no challenge of any kind to the world imperialist order today, unlike in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. From the point of view of imperialism, there is no need to launch a new military adventure against Iraq. So in the end, the considerable amount of hot air generated by Bush and Blair may be allowed to peter out like a fart.

On the other hand political build-ups of this kind tend to take on a logic of their own, especially against the backdrop of a crisis situation - and we are in a crisis situation, due to the recession which seems to be settling in across the rich countries. Such logic may drive Bush to choose military action. But even then, he would still have a whole array of options, from just carrying on with the present "low-level" war to launching a full-scale invasion (even though the latter seems the least likely), with many intermediate variations. And there is no way to tell which option he might choose.

The only thing that can be said with certainty is that what happens will not be determined by Iraq's alleged "threat" to the West nor by its so-called "weapons of mass destruction", but by a whole range of other factors which have nothing to do with Iraq itself.

This being said, regardless of the course of action taken by Bush in the coming weeks or months, the Iraqi population is under threat. Because even if there is no escalation, this population still remains at the receiving end of an on-going war. In this war, it is in the interest of the working class of this country to choose the side of the Iraqi population against our own exploiters and their trustees in government - and this for two main reasons.

First, of course, out of a basic solidarity with an oppressed population which is being pushed further into destitution by Bush's and Blair's great power games.

And second, because the rhetorical build up of the past months implies a threat for the working classes of the rich countries as well. It is designed to create an atmosphere of fear and to get public opinion used to the idea that war is not just necessary but unavoidable. But creating this atmosphere of "national unity against the enemy" is conducive to all kinds of reactionary shifts in society. This strategy has often been used by the capitalist classes to try to bury the class struggle under patriotic rubbish, treating any working class action as a breach of "national unity" if not outright "treason." And it has invariably been used as a means to clamp down on the working class in order to increase exploitation.

So there is more at stake here than the war against Iraq, important as it may be. There is also the threat of a reactionary drive against the working class which must be resisted at all costs.

Bush's predicament and 11/09

The prime mover in this reactionary drive has been, of course, the Bush administration. Not that Bush represents policies which are fundamentally different from those implemented by the previous Clinton administration. Rather it was circumstances which created the need and provided the opportunity for Bush to take a sharp turn to the right in the way these policies are implemented. In this respect, the lunatic-sounding far-right rhetoric of people like vice-president Dick Cheney or Attorney General John Ashcroft should not mislead anyone. This is the product of the present reactionary drive, not its cause.

The least that can be said is that Bush's beginnings in office were rather uninspiring. The presidential election had been marred by scandals about voters who were deprived of a vote, votes which were miscounted or not counted at all, etc.. And the ballot result was so close that it took no less than five weeks for the federal machinery to decide who was to be the next president.

But when Bush eventually moved into the White House, in January 2001, he was not just a president whose election was being put into question openly by a whole section of the US public, but his control over the US Congress was also non-existent. The House of Representatives had a Republican majority of only 12 and the Senate a Democrat majority of one. Bush was in no position to railroad legislation through Congress without making significant concessions to the Democrats, who were bound to make a big show of their resistance. Nor did he enjoy enough support among the public to take the risk of by-passing Congress on any controversial issues. This was an uncomfortable situation for a president who had made so many promises to the bosses and the wealthy during his election campaign.

This situation became even more uncomfortable when, less than three months into the Bush presidency, share prices tumbled by over 10%. From March 2001 onwards, one of Bush's main activities was to deliver pep talks, to reassure his electorate that, despite the epileptic movements of the stock market, this was just a "blip" in a period of increasing affluence, thanks to the country's "healthy fundamentals" - except that things have got worse ever since, not better.

To all intents and purposes, Bush's first nine months in office were devoted almost entirely to gesture politics. In addition to a tax cuts package introduced in May, his most spectacular move was to withdraw from the Kyoto agreement on the environment and from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In and of itself this did not make much difference. Despite all the hype surrounding Kyoto, the agreement involved no actual mechanism to ensure that its targets are met, nor did it impose significant targets for the worst offender of all in terms of environmental nuisance - i.e. the US. As to the ABM treaty, which had been hailed as putting an end for ever to Reagan's Star Wars project, it was like any other multilateral treaty on military matters - every major power insisted that the others should comply with it, but none was prepared to take the risk of doing so.

Of course, the dropping of the two treaties by Bush was meant as a political statement addressed to the world in general, but above all to the US public. It was a way of reasserting the hegemony of US imperialism on the world scene and boosting US patriotism at home by promoting the idea that the US need no-one and should be accountable to no-one. This was nothing very new and it did not do very much to boost support for the administration.

Then came 11th September. The Bush administration switched immediately to top gear in order to make as much political capital as it could out of the thousands of dead bodies and the shock caused by these attacks. "National unity" became the watchword - "national unity" against terrorism, of course, but above all "national unity" behind Bush and his administration on each and every issue. The so-called "war on terrorism" had begun.

With the help of the media, Bush proceeded to hammer out the idea that not only had the culprits to be caught and punished at any cost, but that the American nation was now at war with some unidentified enemy called terrorism, which had to be eradicated. And although this drumming up of patriotism was received with scepticism by many people, it did push up Bush's standing in opinion polls dramatically.

Within three days of the attack, the House of Representatives enacted what amounted to a blank cheque for Bush, allowing him to "use all necessary and appropriate force against nations, organisations, or persons he determines planned, authorised, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harboured such organisations or persons." There was only one dissenting voice - Barbara Lee, the black Democrat representative for Oakland, California. Apart from her, every single Democrat signed this blank cheque for the man whom some had previously described as an "unreconstructed Dr Strangelove."

In the following period, a number of controversial bills were railroaded through Congress almost without any dissent, while Bush used the pretext of the "emergency" to resort increasingly to executive orders which by-passed Congress.

On 12 October the House of Representatives passed a major piece of repressive legislation, the so-called PATRIOT bill, ("Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"!) after just five hours debate and without any amendments allowed. The bill's definition of "terrorism" was so broad that it could be applied to just about anyone - including demonstrators or strike pickets. It gave unprecedented new powers to the police - including eavesdropping on the internet without a court order and indefinite detention of non-citizens. Secret courts were to deal with terrorist issues as well as authorise domestic phone-tapping. The bill also allowed the police to search people's homes or offices without ever notifying them, and not just for "terrorism" cases but for all cases. Significantly, shortly after the bill was passed, 5,000 legal residents of Middle-Eastern origin were asked to "volunteer" for an interview.

A few weeks later, this bill was given an even more repressive twist by a Military Order signed by Bush which provided that special juryless military courts, formed by officers, could be set up to judge anyone suspected of "terrorism." In these courts none of the normal standards for evidence is required nor is the defendant entitled to be told about the evidence which is used against him.

The very same day the PATRIOT bill was passed, a Congress committee approved the draft version of another bill without a blink, although this time, it had nothing to do with terrorism. Indeed this bill was aimed at doubling the tax cuts already approved in May 2001. Except that this new round of tax cuts was designed in such a way that 41% of the total amount would benefit the richest 1%, while 60% of the poorest taxpayers would be left to share only 7% of the cuts. It was a blatant handout to the rich, which could certainly not be justified by the "war on terrorism." Nevertheless it was part of this policy, just as were a host of other measures, which have been passed since, in favour of the rich and the bosses.

The war against Afghanistan - a bloody failure

Within hours of the attack on the World Trade Centre, Osama bin Laden was singled out as its mastermind. Whether this was true or not (a number of analysts are still suspicious of the evidence today) is immaterial. But this was certainly convenient. After all, bin Laden was well-known to the US secret services - who had had plenty of shady dealings with him in the past. Moreover he had already been accused of perpetrating a number of terrorist operations against US targets in Africa and the Middle East. Bin Laden was certainly an ideal choice for the role of public enemy number one.

But what was the point for the US leaders to attack Afghanistan, let alone overthrow the Taleban regime? It was not as if the Taleban dictatorship had been defying the imperialist world order, quite the contrary. In 1996, the Taleban seizure of power had been hailed as a step towards regional political stability by the Clinton administration. And they had proved capable of restoring order in most of the country. Moreover, unlike their Iranian counterpart, this inward-looking medieval regime did not seem to be interested in expanding its influence beyond its borders nor in scoring points against imperialism.

All this had been enough to put the Taleban in Washington's good books, despite the fact that they provided a training ground for bin Laden's men. So much so that from November 2000, the US government had initiated negotiations in Germany, aimed at finding some sort of settlement between the Taleban and the Northern Alliance warlords. And far from shelving this initiative launched under Clinton, the Bush administration had put even more resources into it, to the point where the US soon became Afghanistan's biggest donor country. Not only that, but US envoys had even revived, in discussions with the Taleban, an old project for a US-financed oil pipeline across Afghanistan.

So why choose to bomb into the ground a whole population which had nothing to do with the attack on the World Trade Centre and overthrow a regime which, only a few weeks before, Bush was hoping to bring on-board the world imperialist order's battleship?

The point was that Bush's aim was not just to "bring the criminals to justice", as he kept repeating. Otherwise, as many commentators have pointed out, the odds are that, given adequate incentives, the Taleban could have been convinced to hand over bin Laden and some of his men.

No, Bush also had other objectives. Firstly, he wanted to ensure that the US failure to prevent the attack on the World Trade Centre would not be interpreted as a sign of weakness on the part of imperialism - especially in the Arab countries where this attack had been seen by many as revenge for decades of oppression at the hand of US- sponsored regimes. Secondly, he wanted to deflect a possible backlash from a section of US public opinion which was beginning to question a foreign policy capable of generating so much hatred. Thirdly, he wanted to use the unique opportunity offered by 11/09 to end the US population's deep hostility, inherited from the days of the Vietnam war, to overtly imperialist military interventions.

These were the reasons for the patriotic hysteria unleashed by the Bush administration in the days following 11/09, in order to get public opinion to support a military intervention which was openly aimed at dictating to Afghanistan what regime it should have - just as in the heyday of the Cold War, when US troops were sent to Korea or Vietnam to crush nationalist regimes which displayed too much independence towards imperialism. Only, this time, instead of using the "evil of communism" as a justification, Bush used the "war on terrorism" and the USA's worldwide responsibilities as a guarantor of "democracy" and "women's rights" - which was, of course, a cynical pretext given the record of US imperialism in all these respects.

Bush's calculation was successful, but only to an extent. Faced with the overwhelming fire power of the US army, the Taleban regime collapsed. Many of the warlords who had been among the pillars of the regime switched sides when they were given the choice between accepting a generous supply of dollars or being subjected to more intense bombings. And the Taleban troops just melted away in the Afghan landscape.

However, the motley crew of warlords put together by the US in order to form a new regime, which would take over from the Taleban, soon exposed its limitations. Some of the most powerful warlords remained outside, like Ismail Khan, the strong man of the western city of Herat. Others, like the Uzbek warlord Rachid Dostum, took an honorary seat in the provisional government but never recognised its authority in his own fiefdom. Four months after its "election" by an assembly of self-nominated strongmen and notables, the present government, which is supposed to remain in power until 2004, is still ridden with factional fights - which have resulted so far in the murder of a minister and a vice-president, not to mention a number of attempted murders on government officials, including the president himself, and many terrorist bombings against government and US targets. To all intents and purposes the authority of the regime put together by the US intervention is limited, at best, to the capital. And if it was not for the presence of the 4,500-strong UN peace-keeping force, the country would probably be on the brink of another civil war, similar to the one which brought it to its knees before the Taleban era.

Needless to say, under such conditions, there is no question of any kind of "democracy", in any case not for the population which barely survives in extreme deprivation. The financial aid promised by the US has still to materialise and the small trickle reaching the country only benefits the cliques represented in government. As to women's conditions, while the worst restrictions imposed on them by the Taleban have been lifted on paper, in practice they still have to live under an Islamic Republic - as the regime is officially called - with the very real continued oppression that this implies.

But the most embarrassing failure of the US intervention concerns bin Laden himself and the Taleban. One year after the bombing ended, US and British special operation units are still hunting down elusive Taleban and al-Qaeda forces in the mountains of Afghanistan. And they have virtually nothing to show for their efforts. The fact is that the world's most powerful army has failed to catch bin Laden and the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar, despite its superior firing power, drones and other spy satellites. A few hundred fighters have been taken prisoner and caged in the Guantanamo base in Cuba, but according to an increasing flow of evidence, many more Taleban soldiers have been found in mass graves - killed cold-bloodedly by the warlords allied to the US, often under the noses of their American advisers. As to the "heroic" acts of the US-British forces, these boil down to a long series of so-called "errors", in which whole villages were destroyed and many of their inhabitants killed, on the basis of flimsy intelligence. Not to mention a series of cases of so-called "friendly fire" in which US bombs killed US and Canadian soldiers.

So, it is to end up with this kind of mess that thousands of Afghan people, who had nothing do with 11/09 or with the Taleban, have been killed and had their homes and public facilities destroyed! With such a bloody record - not to mention a few other resounding failures such as the anthrax scare, which turned out to be due to far-right US born-and-bred nutcases - it was obvious that Bush could not hope to maintain the patriotic momentum of the "war on terrorism" nor the "national unity" behind his presidency, for very long.

The Enron scandal - the thieves' presidency

But the mess created by Bush's policy in Afghanistan is probably not even the worst of his problems. The USA is traditionally very parochial in outlook. Most newspapers hardly ever refer to events abroad, let alone in terms critical of US policy. Probably a significant section of the population was never quite aware of Bush's bloody failure in Afghanistan. But what they could not miss was his exposure following the Enron scandal and the long string of bankruptcies in large companies which marked the whole of this year.

Many of these bankruptcies, particularly that of the energy group Enron and the telecommunication giant WorldCom, revealed all kinds of shady practices which were used by directors to transform losses into profits in their balance sheets or to line their pockets, or both. Some of these practices were plainly illegal, some took advantage of various legal loopholes, but all had been more or less tolerated for a long time, at least as long as profits and share prices kept increasing.

The problem, of course, was that these bankruptcies affected millions of workers - those who lost their jobs as a result together with, in many cases, most of the redundancy money they should have been entitled to, and the many more who lost most or all of their pensions as a result of the collapse of share prices. And these workers could see that, while they were left penniless, the directors of their companies still managed to make a killing out of some 11th hour share dealing, golden handshakes or bonuses. Understandably these workers were outraged and demanded explanations and, above all, action.

Bush could not afford to remain quiet. He had to move quickly in order to prevent people from questioning the system itself. Culprits had to be found to divert workers' attention from all this "scandalous" profiteering (all the more so, since this is nothing but the true face of capitalism). So he launched scathing attacks against the so-called "rogue executives" who, according to his speeches, were to be held responsible for everything that went wrong.

Except that the Enron scandal, starting with the bankruptcy of the company in December last year, was revealing more and more scandalous acts each week as it unfolded. It exposed the close links, verging on outright corruption, which existed between politicians, particularly the White House clique, and the bankrupt company. Bush was an long-time friend of Kenneth Lay, Enron's chief executive. And Enron had been one of the biggest donors in all his election campaigns. Bush, father and son, had also been prime movers in the deregulation drive which allowed Enron to build an empire as an energy broker. Moreover a number of big guns in Bush's team came straight from Enron's payroll - including Lawrence Lindsey, Bush's top economic adviser, Thomas White, his secretary of the army, Harvey Pitt, who he had appointed to head the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), not to mention Marc Raciot, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee.

But what shocked people even more, especially in view of Bush's harsh condemnation of "rogue executives", was the series of revelations which came out of the Enron scandal, showing that Bush and his vice-president Dick Cheney, had been themselves "rogue executives" before sneaking into the White House. Both had been investigated by the SEC for illegal practices. Bush had attracted the attention of the SEC for failing to declare the sale of 2/3 of his shares in Harken Engineering, of which he was a director, just before their price started falling drastically due to losses in a foreign subsidiary, and also for taking a loan from the same company at a bargain-basement interest rate. As to Cheney, he had been investigated for presiding over the massaging of the accounts of the oil equipment giant Halliburton, while he was its chief executive, with the help of accounting firm Arthur Andersen - the same firm involved in the Enron and WorldCom scandals.

Predictably, by June this year, Bush's standing in opinions polls was beginning to deteriorate. This was all the more alarming for him as the mid-term election, due on 5 November, in which all seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of those in the Senate stand for re-election, was drawing near. If Bush was to win this election, he had to do something about it and quick.

Patching up "national unity"

This was the context in which Bush escalated his war rhetoric.

Given the US military's spectacular failure to catch bin Laden, the "war on terrorism" was losing momentum. In fact it was turning into an embarrassment, while at the same time Bush's and Cheney's crooked corporate records were all over the papers day after day. Bush needed to rebuild "national unity" behind his presidency, by reviving the illusion that the US remained the target of outside threats. Besides, how else could Bush justify the continuing deployment of the US army in just about every part of the planet under the pretext of protecting the "free world", when, of course, its real purpose was to protect the interests of US capital at the expense of the freedom of the populations of the poor countries? Not to mention the exorbitant cost of this military deployment, with the 33% increase of the defence budget announced over the next three years, at a time when the standard of living of a significant section of the population is being seriously reduced by the recession.

So Bush resorted to the obvious trick - he pulled the old bogeyman, Saddam Hussein, out of the cupboard where he had been left temporarily following 11/09. Having done this, all Bush had to do was to relaunch the war rhetoric used by his predecessors against Iraq for a whole decade, based on the lies and scaremongering still present in the collective memory of a section, at least, of the US public.

In doing so, Bush intended to kill two birds with one stone. By replacing bin Laden with Saddam Hussein, he could leave the "war against terrorism" to rest in the background, for the time being at least, and avoid some embarrassing questions about his bloody handling of the whole affair in Afghanistan. At the same time, by pointing to an enemy - the Iraqi state - which had a lot more resources than the Al Qaeda network and could be portrayed as much more of a threat, Bush was hoping to revive the urge to forget all past quarrels and misgivings - including questions about Bush's own crooked past - in order to defeat the "enemy",

But to achieve such "national unity" behind his policies, Bush still had to convince US public opinion that Saddam Hussein was really a threat - without, of course, having the slightest shred of evidence for this. Hence his verbal escalation, from last July onwards, which was primarily designed to impress on public opinion the idea that a military confrontation could not be avoided anyway and that, therefore, the best course was to back the White House all the way so as to ensure that this confrontation would be dealt with as quickly and effectively as possible.

The weapons issue - a pack of lies

That Bush had no evidence whatsoever to back up his case against Saddam Hussein was clearly demonstrated by Blair's own "dossier" on Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction." Given the huge fanfare surrounding this "dossier" in the weeks preceding its publication, on 24 September, one could have expected it to contain at least something new. But in fact, there is nothing in this "dossier" that we have not heard already time and again.

Out of its 50 pages, only 16 actually deal with the present state of Iraq's weapons. And the so-called "evidence" which is provided is just rehashed speculation, "ifs" and "maybes." Most of the allegations presented start with the phrase "intelligence shows", which can hardly be described as proving anything - except that the whole thing was compiled by shady bodies like MI5 and 6, which specialise in so-called "propaganda war", that is, sponging up enormous amounts of taxpayers' money to produce the most outrageous scare stories.

For instance, this "dossier" refers to a host of chemical factories, using satellite pictures which are designed, no doubt, to give an impression of seriousness and accuracy - although it is impossible to tell whether these pictures show working or derelict factories. It is stated that most of these factories function on sites which were destroyed by the bombings of the Gulf War or blown up by weapons inspectors in the aftermath. The "dossier" even goes as far as to admit that their production is useful for civilian purposes, especially to replace the products that Iraq is no longer allowed to import because of the US-British enforced blockade of the country. But, adds the "dossier", "intelligence shows" that their production could also be used to develop chemical and bacteriological weapons. Except, of course, that there is no need for "intelligence" to know that many organic compounds could potentially be used in the development of biological weapons and most chemicals in the development of chemical weapons. With that sort of reasoning, any chemical factory anywhere in the world could be suspected of being involved in the production of "weapons of mass destruction"!

As to Iraq's alleged nuclear bomb, the only "evidence" produced is as follows: the existence of laboratories which "could" be aimed at trying to produce enriched uranium; attempts to import parts which "could" be used in a nuclear weapons' programme but are also useful for all sorts of benign purposes (such as water pumps, for instance, that Iraq is not allowed to import, despite the fact that they are vitally needed for its drainage and drinking water system); allegations that Iraq "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" (but nowhere does it say how significant nor whether this attempt was successful, nor indeed that uranium can be used for all sorts of things, including for medical purposes); and the fact that Iraq still has a host of nuclear scientists whose expertise "could" be used to produce a nuclear weapon. In the end, the gist of this argument is that Iraq probably has enough nuclear science skills to produce a nuclear weapon at some stage, provided it develops the necessary industrial base and obtains enriched fuel. Again, this is the kind of "evidence" that could be used against just about any sizeable country.

The same nonsense can be found about Iraq's ballistic weapons - without which biological, chemical or nuclear weapons are pretty useless anyway. There is a long list of the various types of missiles that Iraq is supposed to have. But the "dossier" itself admits that most of them are still mere projects, not actual operational weapons. It even says that Iraqi scientists are still at the stage of dismantling the SCUD missiles they have in order to understand how they work. Given the fact that these missiles are based on Soviet technology dating back to the 1950s, this means that if Iraq is pursuing research on long-range missiles, it is very far from having any - to the extent that the "dossier" has to acknowledge the fact that in the worst case, the only inch of "British" territory that "could" be threatened by Iraq's missiles would be the British military base in Cyprus. (But then, what on earth are British soldiers doing there in the first place?)

In passing, this "dossier" unwittingly exposes some of Blair's own lies about Iraq's alleged threat. For instance, there is the case of that "unmanned aircraft capable of spraying anthrax over Britain" which was all over British papers when Blair was busy justifying the 4-day carpet bombing of Iraq during operation "Desert Fox" in 1998. Today, according to Blair's "dossier", it turns out that this is just a so far unsuccessful project; that there is no useable anthrax in Iraq anyway; and that the aircraft in question is based on an old training aircraft whose flying range is at best a few hundred miles!

So if Blair lied last time round, why should he be trusted to do otherwise today?

In any case, there are two ways of answering all this dishonest speculation.

One answer was given in an interview to the Guardian by Scott Ritter, a former major in the US marines and ex-UN weapons inspector until he resigned, in 1998, out of disgust at Washington's politicking over the weapons issue. Ritter argues that whatever stocks of chemical and bacteriological weapons remained intact and undetected after the Gulf War are now useless, due to the fact that the chemical agents involved have a shelf life of at most two or three years. As to producing new weapons of that type or nuclear weapons, this is a joke according to Ritter, as on the one hand, the industrial infrastructure required for this just does not exist any more, and on the other, such activity would be easily detectable by spy satellites and Washington would therefore be able to produce conclusive evidence.

However, the other answer is just that, as far as we are concerned, we do not accept that the imperialist powers should have the right to decide which country, or which dictator, is allowed or not to have weapons of any kind, and what weapons. There is indeed a cynical irony in the fact that those who are claiming the high moral ground against Saddam Hussein on the issue of "weapons of mass destruction" today are representatives of imperialist powers, which not only maintain stocks of such weapons large enough to wipe the world population off the planet, but also have used them repeatedly and on a scale incomparably larger than what Saddam Hussein was ever able to do, including against the Iraqi population itself in the case of Britain - when Churchill ordered the use of mustard gas against Iraqi Kurds back in 1919. Such hypocritical cynicism, aimed at imposing imperialism's domination to the rest of the world, is simply intolerable.

Saddam Hussein - a Western stooge fallen out of favour

To go back to Blair's "dossier", 2/3 of it is devoted to exposing what a terrible dictator Saddam Hussein is - which is undoubtedly true.

But there is a lot more that should have been said about Saddam's dictatorship. For instance the fact that if Saddam Hussein was able to turn Iraq into a regional power, thereby entrenching his personal dictatorship in the country, it was primarily thanks to the $100bn plus of military hardware sold to his regime by Western death merchants during the 1980s. It should have been said also that Saddam Hussein only developed a nuclear programme as well as chemical and biological weapons, during that period, thanks to the interested assistance of the Western powers.

Indeed it should be recalled that Saddam Hussein, his dictatorship and drive to become a regional heavy weight and even his invasion of Kuwait, which prompted the Gulf War, were first and foremost by-products of the imperialist system of domination over the Middle East.

Up until 1979, this system of domination had a dual base - the Israeli state and the Iranian regime of the Shah. Israel had (and retains) a unique advantage among all imperialism's allies in the Third World, in that its regime enjoyed the support of a large section of its population, including when it upheld Western interests against the leaders or populations of the region - always in the name of "defending the existence of Israel", of course. But Israel is a tiny country, with limited means despite the huge military and economic aid it received from the US. Iran, by contrast, had the largest population in the Middle-East. The Shah's regime, was a repressive dictatorship which was hated by a large part of its population. But the regime was all the more loyal to Western interests as it had been brought to power by a CIA-inspired military coup against Mosaddeq's populist nationalist regime, in 1953.

In 1979, the Shah was overthrown by a popular uprising. However, the fact that this uprising was then hijacked by Khomeini's Islamic Fundamentalist forces presented many advantages for the West, as the new regime's religious anti-communism was an even more effective obstacle to Soviet influence. But Khomeini had set a bad example - by taking power from one of the West's most-valued allies, by indulging in tokenistic anti-American demagogy in order to keep the situation under control and by encouraging the emergence of like-minded political forces in other Middle-Eastern countries. For all these reasons, Khomeini's regime had to be cut down to size and the Iranian population subjected to punishment, in order to reassert the domination of imperialism in the region.

But by that time, the imperialist powers had a possible instrument at hand - Saddam Hussein, who had just proclaimed himself president in June 1979. Eleven years before, following yet another coup, Saddam had risen to the top spheres of the Iraqi regime, as deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council in charge of internal security. Since then, he had established a ruthless dictatorship in the country and eliminated his rivals. By decimating all opposition forces, he had brought a political stability of sorts to the country. Above all, he had worked hard to restore Iraq's economic relations with the West, which had been previously disrupted by the nationalist demagogy of his predecessors. All this made of Saddam Hussein if not an ally, at least a credible auxiliary of the imperialist powers, with no questions asked about his dictatorial methods and mass executions of political opponents.

So, when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, in September 1980, after a series of confrontations over the control of the Shatt-al-Arab canal - the sole access for both countries to the Gulf sea - the remonstrations made by imperialist leaders were largely token. A war which pitted the two main Middle Eastern states against each other, and therefore weakened both, suited the imperialist powers. And given their gripes against Khomeini and their favourable bias for Saddam Hussein, they chose to provide the latter with some form of military help. As for the other regional dictators, who saw the spread of Khomeini's particular brand of Islamic fundamentalism as a threat to their rule, they were prepared to back Saddam Hussein.

This eight-year war, which left one million dead (60% of these were Iranians), above all provided an enormous bounty for many Western companies, particularly the arms industry, and especially from 1984, after the US leaders decided to allow arms sales to Iraq in order to prevent an Iranian victory. At the same time, Jordan and Saudi Arabia increased their armouries, buying US, British, German and French hardware (£9bn worth in the case of Saudi Arabia). And of course many of the imperialist countries sold arms and technology to both sides.

The Iran-Iraq war ended in a stalemate in 1988, though Iraq was seen to be the victor, having at least conceded no territory to Iran and suffering fewer losses. However, the Iraqi economy was in tatters. The war had destroyed a substantial amount of oil production facilities and left the Iraqi state itself virtually bankrupt and heavily indebted to Kuwait in particular. But now that the Iranian regime had been weakened by the war, imperialism no longer had any reason to help Saddam Hussein, for fear that he might become too big for his boots. So Saddam Hussein soon found that he was being left high and dry by the imperialist powers when the international financial institutions and imperialist banks refused to lend him more money.

Kuwait played a particularly vicious role in Iraq's economic paralysis. During the war, Kuwait had made a fortune out of dealing with Iraq's oil on its behalf. However, once the war was over, this did not stop the Kuwaiti royals from demanding that Iraq should immediately repay its £9bn wartime debt. But at the same time, Kuwait was producing more oil than its quota thereby reducing Iraq's oil revenue and its ability to repay its debt.

Faced with a situation which was becoming critical, and having failed to achieve anything through diplomacy, Saddam Hussein resolved to use intimidation. On 2nd August 1990, he ordered his troops into Kuwait, in the hope probably to impose in one fell swoop a resolution of his border conflict with Kuwait, of the Shatt-a-Arab canal issue as well as a settlement on the questions of debt repayment and oil prices. According to some accounts, Saddam Hussein was even led to believe by US diplomats that Washington would not object - and after all, this would not have been unusual since countries like Turkey, Israel and Syria, for instance, had casually invaded their neighbours' territories in the past without the so-called "international community" lifting a finger.

However, in the end the oil interests affected by the invasion of Kuwait proved decisive. The imperialist powers decided that they could not allow anyone, not even a regional stooge like Saddam Hussein, to disrupt the looting of the Middle East by Western oil companies. All of a sudden Saddam Hussein became the bogeyman of the world and Bush senior launched the military build up which was to lead to the Gulf War and to turn Iraq into a pariah state ever since.

An unstable region

Then as today, the officially stated aim of the war was to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Bush senior, Thatcher and her successor, John Major, made repeated speeches to that effect, using almost word for word the same formulations that Bush and Blair are using today.

Yet when the war ended in March 1991, after six weeks of carpet bombing and the final gratuitous slaughter of the Iraqi troops withdrawing from Kuwait, Western forces stood by while Saddam Hussein's troops were crushing uprisings among the Shiite populations in the South and the Kurds in the North. Only once this was achieved and the regime had consolidated its grip once more, did the UN resume its pressure and launch the subsequent decade- long "low-level" war designed to keep Saddam Hussein down and retain Iraq as a lasting example, for all to see, of the cost of interfering with the imperialist order and the flow of oil profits.

Whether the imperialist leaders had, at any point, seriously considered removing Saddam Hussein is an open question. But the fact is that by the end of the Gulf War, despite their overwhelming victory, they no longer pursued this objective. And the odds are that, whatever their intentions were before, the unrest unleashed by Saddam Hussein's defeat was precisely what convinced western governments in general and the US in particular, that keeping Saddam Hussein in place was the safest bet.

Indeed, the Western oil majors' profits and part of the imperialist countries' oil supplies depend on the political stability of the Middle East. The aftermath of the Gulf War showed, if there was any doubt on this account, that Iraq was a conglomerate of powder kegs waiting to explode. Not only would such explosions put into question existing national borders, thereby opening the possibility of regional border wars, but in addition, in the case of the Kurds, the explosions could spread to at least four other countries if the old demand for a greater Kurdistan came onto the agenda again. To risk a vacuum of power in Iraq under such circumstances, even a short-lived one, was simply too much of a risk for imperialism.

Eleven years on, the interests of imperialism have not changed, but the region has become increasingly unstable. The rise of a brand of Islamic fundamentalism which is prepared to threaten Western interests has weakened a number of regimes loyal to imperialist interests - including in Saudi Arabia, a traditional backyard of the US oil majors, where the monopoly on careers exercised by the country's ruling clique has pushed many educated youth towards radical fundamentalist groups, such as bin Laden's. In Iran, despite the emergence of a powerful modernist and pro-imperialist current, the state machinery remains partly dominated by an Islamic hierarchy, which still has the ambition to develop its influence across the Middle East. In Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, radical fundamentalist groups have been gathering more and more influence, not to the point of threatening the regimes so far, but they certainly have shown their potential to destabilise them at some point in the future. As to Palestine, it is now deeply submerged in war, thanks to Sharon's personal implementation of Bush's "war on terrorism".

Will Bush really try to get rid of Saddam Hussein?

Obviously Bush would love to replace Saddam's regime with a more pliable one - both because it would be a personal political victory for him and it would strengthen imperialism's rule in the Middle East. However, by overthrowing Saddam Hussein today, the US leaders would deprive a generally unstable region of what appears to be, paradoxical as this may seem, one of its most stable regimes.

Unlike in the case of the 1991 Gulf War, the need to protect oil interests, in and of itself, probably does not warrant the taking of such a risk today, contrary to what some commentators argue. Indeed the US is not facing a crisis of oil supplies, especially in view of the fact that the recession has reduced oil consumption in the rich countries. Nor are Iraq's oil reserves necessarily as huge as is sometimes claimed. In fact, estimates of oil reserves vary wildly depending on sources. So, while the US official energy agency put Iraq in second position with 11% of world resources, the UN-sponsored World Energy Outlook put them in third place with 8.8% (almost the same amount as Iran), behind Russia with 15.5%.

Above all, while a more pliable regime in Iraq would allow US oil majors to pick and choose what they want, even with Saddam Hussein at the driving seat, they still stand to get the lion's share of the spoils. Indeed, if US oil companies are not operating in Iraq for the time being, it is not because Saddam Hussein is preventing them from doing so. In fact it is Bush who is preventing them from doing the business they would very much like doing with Saddam Hussein. Recent estimates of the destination of the crude oil sold by Iraq through the UN-controlled "oil for food" programme showed that 2/3 of that crude ended up in US-owned refineries - meaning that the US majors have no difficulty in getting their hands on Iraqi oil when Bush does not stand in their way. And should UN sanctions be lifted, there is every reason to believe that Saddam Hussein would bend over backwards to give them priority, if only because they have the largest financial resources and the most powerful state to back them. Such is the political and economic strength of US imperialism. It has the means to force its way into any market and any country, against any competitor. And there is no reason for Iraq to be an exception in this respect.

While oil does not seem to be a decisive issue at this point, from the point of view of imperialism, Saddam Hussein at least has the advantage of having proved his ability to keep the lid on the country's nationalist powder kegs - the methods used are immaterial for Washington, only the result matters. And there is no guarantee that a regime put together under the auspices of the US would be able to do the same.

Indeed, on which forces would an alternative regime be built? The London-based Iraqi National Congress (INC), better-know as the "silk-suited" opposition, which was revived by Clinton in 1999? But it represents nothing, comprising just a small group of liberals, along with another small group of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party and the tiny Constitutional Monarchist Movement plus a few individual Shiite clerics. In fact the INC seems primarily interested in the millions of dollars granted to them by Clinton's Iraq Liberation Act.

In fact all the significant groups with a presence on the ground - the Iraqi Communist Party, the two Kurdish nationalist parties and the main Shiite organisations left the INC long ago. But the nationalist groups themselves could hardly live together within the same government.

The two main Kurdish groups provide an illustration of the deep rivalries within the opposition to Saddam's regime. In 1993, these two parties fell out with one another after a dispute over control of oil-smuggling revenue in the Northern Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq. One side asked Saddam Hussein to send troops against the other. Eventually, in 1997, a US-brokered agreement was signed between the two parties, whereby a Northern Kurdish zone, roughly the size of Switzerland, was split into two distinct geographic areas, one for each of the rival parties. It is hard to imagine the two warlords who rule over these parties coexisting in the same government and keeping the country together, all the more so as one of them at least is in favour of an independent Kurdish state!

The case of Afghanistan shows that setting up a regime which is both loyal to imperialism and stable, poses many intractable problems and may require a permanent Western military presence in the country for many years to come, just to ensure that the regime holds on to power in a small area surrounding the capital and to prevent the country from being engulfed in another bloody civil war. If such was the case in Afghanistan, where the existing forces were only those of rival warlords with at most a few thousand poorly-armed soldiers each, it is not hard to imagine how much more difficult the problem would be in Iraq, which has a large, modern state machinery - including a number of rival military hierarchies - well-structured nationalist parties with heavily armed militias which enjoy the support of significant sections of the population, a relatively large educated middle- class which has is own traditions and interests and, last but not least, although we know nothing about its situation, a sizeable urban working class.

Besides, even before talking about replacing Saddam, he would need to be overthrown. And this is not the least of Bush's problems as it may well require a lot more than the dropping of bombs and the bribing of local warlords, as was the case in Afghanistan. After all, the Iraqi people have been subjected by the US to eleven years of bombings and deprivation. They are not likely to forget this if and when the US army invades the country. Hatred for the US among the population could even boost support for Saddam's regime. In any case, it is bound to generate widespread resistance to US troops. Even the Pentagon is wary of this risk, when it stresses that a military operation aimed at overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would involve a full-scale land invasion with the occupation of Baghdad, cost thousands of casualties among US soldiers and require a long-term occupation of the country, not by a few thousand soldiers as in Afghanistan, but by tens of thousands at least.

Given all this, the imperialist leaders may well think twice before even considering what Bush calls, for the sake of his war rhetoric, "regime-change" in Iraq.

The real enemy is here

Once again, there is no way of telling what the future has in store with regard to Iraq. But whatever happens, the consequences of this on-going war mongering are already visible here, in the reactionary drift displayed by Western governments. This drift has two interrelated aspects.

First, the governments of the imperialist countries have been striving to get public opinion used to the idea that intervening militarily in poor countries is "normal" and "legitimate" under the rule of a so- called "international law" over which no-one has ever had a say. These days, they do not even bother with the hypocritical humanitarian pretexts that were used to justify the Western intervention in Bosnia, for instance. Recently, US, British and French troops have intervened jointly or separately in Iraq, Somalia, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Yemen, in the coming days maybe, in Ivory Coast, and tomorrow maybe they will intervene once again in Iraq. And in all these cases, the objective was to protect a pro-imperialist regime, to repress a local rebellion, to punish or overthrow a regime which defied imperialist interests, or just to make a spectacular show of strength. At the same time, the imperialist powers, mostly, but not only the US, have been expanding their military presence across the world in areas where they had never set up camp before - such as the former Soviet Central Asian republics, for instance.

Second, the Western states have been intervening increasingly in their own economies in order to boost the profits of the capitalist classes, which are constrained by the on-going crisis of the past decades. But this intervention has not taken the form of the state interventions which followed the 1929 crash or that of the postwar period - i.e. with the state taking over entire sectors of the economy in order to run them on behalf of the capitalist class. What has been happening is the reverse: the privatisation of every possible chunk of public services, directly or indirectly by means of contracting out or PFI schemes in the case of Britain. The cynicism in all this is that it is carried out under the pretext of reducing the role of the state in the economy. But in actual fact, the end result is that through a constantly expanding and varied maze of channels, the state is now subsidising an increasing share of capitalist profits at the expense of the population, not to mention the outright bailing out of failed private companies like Railtrack or British Energy in Britain, or the big airlines in the US. Some economists estimate that today, more than half of the profits made by all British companies actually come from the state one way or another!

These two aspects are inter-related. The growing military activity of the imperialist countries also happens to be a major means of subsidising capitalist profits through military procurement - paid out of public funds. Next year's defence budget in the USA will be $379bn, which is more than the GDP of the relatively wealthy European country of Belgium. It will include $123bn worth of contracts for private companies, or the equivalent of Belgium's total exports! And Bush has already announced that this bounty for the US capitalist class will increase even more in the coming years.

This increased dependence of capitalist profit on state funding comes at a price for the majority of the population, particularly for the working class and jobless - in the form of reduced welfare cover, reduced and more expensive public services, etc... While at the same time, the recession is also costing many workers their jobs, pensions, etc.. The main thrust of Western governments' policy is to get the working class to swallow the resulting cut in its standard of living.

So far in Britain this has been achieved mainly through getting workers to accept that public services such as transport, housing, education, healthcare, etc... could only be maintained or improved by allowing the capitalist class to parasitise these services, but also that pensions could only be maintained by reducing them and jobs saved by cutting them. In the US, which is one step ahead of Britain as far as the recession is concerned, the result is that this year, the number of US citizens living in poverty has officially increased for the first time in eight years, reaching 32.9m or 11.7%, while the median household income has fallen by 2.2%. Meanwhile the number of Americans who lack health coverage has begun to increase again, reaching 41.2m people.

Bush used 11/09 to keep the lid on the discontent and protect his own political career. The US population was being told that everyone should agree to sacrifices in order to "defend our way of life" as Bush says and face up to the "enemy." And now, he is again using the same ploy, only Saddam Hussein has replaced bin Laden in the role of the "enemy."

Here Blair has also been telling us that our enemies are in Iraq, Afghanistan and other poor countries; that we should support reactionary measures against immigrants (implying that immigrants coming from these countries are somehow a threat, if not potential terrorists); that we should agree to all sorts of restrictions on our rights for the sake of the "war on terrorism"; and that we should line up behind this government for another wave of aggression against Iraq and take whatever consequences this may involve.

But all this scare-mongering is just a cover up. Our real enemy is here. It is the capitalist class, whose profiteering is responsible for the present meltdown on stock markets and countless factory closures, is crippling public services and threatening the whole economy with bankruptcy. Like Bush, Blair only talks the language of fear to enable the bosses to make us foot the bill, by cutting our standard of living and grabbing an ever increasing part of public resources. And if the working class of this country wants to stop this, it will have to oppose Blair's cynical war mongering in order to fight its own war - the class war against the capitalists.