frontline 11

Editorial: Welcome to the Occupation

On Thursday May 1st George Bush personally flew a jet fighter to land on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Bush had trained as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, but had deftly avoided military service himself. He was flying in to preside over a ceremony declaring the war in Iraq over. George Bush, Tony Blair and their allies portrayed themselves as triumphant. They crowed to the world media that they had defeated the Iraqi army in record time and cast down the statue of their nemesis Saddam Hussein.

With its massive superiority in terms of firepower and resources there was little doubt that the formal military segment of the campaign would go any differently.

Six months on and the optimism of the Generals and spin doctors is fading. Iraq is in crisis. It's infrastructure remains paralysed. Schools, hospitals and most vitally supplies of water and electricity have not been fully restored. A combination of poverty, desperation and freely available weaponry have led to high levels of violent crime.But for the occupation 'Coalition Provisional Authority' headed by Paul Bremer the biggest problem remains a military one.

The armed resistance in Iraq has intensified. The attacks of 27th October in which 35 died and 200 were wounded were just the latest in a daily series of attacks which have seen hundreds die since May, including 108 US soldiers. The inability of the occupying forces to deal with the opposition was underlined by the attack on the Rashid Hotel which is within the occupiers 'safe compound' and which was housing visiting US deputy defence secretary, and leading hawk, Paul Wolfowitz.

The occupying coalition cannot even agree who is responsible for the attacks. Foreign fighters are blamed, or diehard Ba'athists, or religious extremists or criminals. The truth is that any guerrilla movement cannot survive, especially in an urban environment, without a significant degree of popular support. The occupying coalition's lack of good intelligence underlines their failure to win friends amongst the Iraqi people. Iraqi's do not want to be humiliatingly occupied by a foreign conquering power. They see things as significantly worse since the invasion, despite the removal of Saddam Hussein's tyranny.They do not want to see their country being sold off to the highest bidder.

Although in many cases there was no bidding process. The US firm Halliburton won contracts worth $1.59 billion to rebuild some of Iraq's oil industry. They also have other contracts in Iraq. US Vice-President Dick Cheney is a former Halliburton executive. Despite having no mandate from the Iraqi people, and despite being in contravention of international law the occupiers are said to be considering the privatisation of vast swathes of the country's infrastructure including telecoms and even hospitals.

Behind this undoubtedly lies the direction of Bush's neo-conservative government in Washington DC. The Iraq war has been globalisation with tanks and cruise missiles.

The strategy of Bush and Blair for Iraq is starting to unravel. As it does so it is mirrored by the unravelling of the domestic political strategy of the two leaders. Iraq is the issue that they cannot ignore and cannot get away from.George Bush has faced major criticism from serving US troops, reservists and their families who expected to be back home by now. Under fire every day in a hostile environment, many troops are at breaking point. There have been 13 suicides so far and of the 478 troops removed early from the region, 75% have been due to mental health issues.

Whilst he still has a majority approval rating, George Bush's poll figures are at their lowest since the September 11th attacks and he must fear his chances come polling day. Of course most Americans do not vote and as the US economy weakens further opposition to Bush from the working class and urban poor is likely to accelerate.The US anti-war movement has not gone away, with 100,000 turning out in Washington DC for the latest protests and many more across the country.

In Britain Tony Blair is awaiting the verdict of the Hutton enquiry which followed the suicide of government scientist and experienced weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly. The enquiry has definitely damaged Blair. The war was never popular in Britain and few view it as a success. The allegations that Blair 'sexed up' documents on Iraq's weapons capability and therefore lied in order to send us to war have damaged him permanently.

The Brent East by-election victory for the Liberal Democrats was due in large part to anti-war voters. Unfortunately the left in England have not been able to convert the anti-war movement into a political movement capable of winning votes. Undoubtedly many thousands of Brent East voters will have attended the February 15th anti-war demonstration. But faced with a choice between a divided left (there were five candidates to the left of Labour in Brent East) and the Lib-Dems they chose the latter. Building a serious united socialist alternative in England remains an essential task.

Mr Bush has sought to bring back some of the feel-good factor with a round the world tour. So far he has been met with vociferous opposition. Thousands have turned out to oppose him in Australia. When Green senators in the Australian parliament heckled his speech they were thrown out whilst Bush cackled 'I love free speech'!

Bush's visit to Britain in November is likely to prompt large demonstrations. The SSP will play its part in militantly opposing the visit and exposing the culpability of Tony Blair and New Labour. New Labour politicians must not escape their share of the blame whether in Westminster, Cardiff or Edinburgh.

We will be calling for an end to the occupation and putting a socialist alternative to war, poverty and racism and appealing to those, like George Galloway and John McAllion, who are sick of New Labour to help build the pluralist socialist alternative not just in Scotland but in England and in Wales.