In less than a week the Bush and Blair administrations have been forced into humiliating public retreats over their Iraq policy.

A sense of blind panic grips sections of the US political elite while there have been unprecedented and open clashes between Blair and his representatives and generals in the British army. For some time retired US generals have been openly critical of Bush’s policy in Iraq. Now the talk is of “new tactics” and a stepped up “timeline for withdrawal of troops”. Why the sudden about turn? Because the effects of the developing bloody civil war in Iraq, occupation and civilian casualties, social disintegration and chaos in Iraq mean there are unprecedented levels of opposition to imperialism’s occupation of Iraq. This is especially the case in the US where elections are due to take place in the next few weeks to both the Senate and the House of Representatives. There has been a sea change in the US population over the last few weeks concerning the war in Iraq.

Incredibly, Bush was even forced in a national television interview to draw some comparisons between the situation faced by his administration and that of Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War when the Tet offensive was launched. This was a simultaneous attack by the national liberation forces of the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong against 41 cities under US protection. While it was a military defeat for the North Vietnamese, it was a huge propaganda defeat for US imperialism and acted as the catalyst to turn US public opinion against the war

This is the first time any senior member of the Bush administration has publicly made any comparison with the Vietnam war which was a historic defeat for US imperialism. It is an indication of the crisis facing US imperialism that it was Bush himself who made the comparison.

An even worse home goal for Bush was the interview given by Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy at the state department’s bureau of near eastern affairs on Al Jazeera television in which he described US policy in Iraq as “arrogant” and “stupid”. Not surprisingly he has withdrawn his comments.

Iraqi civilians are now being killed at the rate of 100 a day – a dry statistic which gives no real feeling of the absolute horror and grief that thousands of Iraqi families are put through every hour of every day because of the disaster created by imperialism.

While there is an insurgency against the US and British occupation, it is the brutal civil war which predominates, spreading all the time and becoming more vicious. Under conditions of social collapse, criminal gangs operate across the country, terrorising working class families. The Iraqi army and police have been infiltrated by both Sunni and Shia militias who carry out sectarian attacks and mount ethnic cleansing operations. The number of different security forces climbs by the day as politicians and members of the corrupt elite take measures to protect themselves and their interests.

Every “policy initiative” US imperialism and its British allies take ends up in disaster. The last month has seen the highest level of US casualties with over 78 military personnel killed. This is despite the fact that 12 000 extra US soldiers were put into Baghdad to help crush the insurgency. The level of violence went up and US Major General Caldwell said that the operation “has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in violence”.

These disasters are being reported on TV news bulletins across the world every day. In the US, opposition to the war, sex scandals and massive corruption have become the driving force behind a collapse in support for the Bush administration. Bush is now viewed negatively by 52% of the population and approval of the Republican-led Congress is at 16%, an all-time historical low. The list of Republican Senators and Congressmen and women who come out and express the need for a change in tactics for the war in Iraq grows every day. Those that don’t are likely to be drawing government pensions after election day since most of the analysts predict it is possible for the Republicans to lose control of both the Senate and House of Representatives.

The Iraqi Study Group set up by Congress and led by James Baker, former Secretary of State under Bush senior, has had further bad news for Bush Junior. It is quite clear that this group of senior members of the US political elite do not believe that present US strategy will work and that a withdrawal is necessary. This reflects a wider mood amongst sections of the US ruling class that it is necessary for them to assert their influence over the situation before the Bush administration sinks even deeper into the quagmire of Iraq. However, even Baker realises that US imperialism needs some sort of pretext to withdraw so that a “victory”, however hollow, can be announced. Baker has already commented that “There is no magic bullet for the situation. It is very, very difficult.”

Leaks from the ISG suggest that one proposal is for a US withdrawal to bases in the Middle East or an approach to Iran and Syria to help deal with the insurgency. Even Baker has been seen to hint at the removal of the Maliki government for failing to deal with the insurgency and the developing civil war. Some international analysts have called for a military junta to take over to impose order. Even Bush and Blair have now given up on the idea of so-called “democracy” but instead want “stability”. However, even with the use of brutal military force, a military takeover would not be able to impose order over a country which has such a varied ethnic makeup with armed militias supposedly representing each grouping.

Other proposals include the division of the country into three: A Kurdish north, Sunni Central belt and Shiah south. This is a recipe for blood letting on a grand-scale – it would be a repetition in part of the human disaster which accompanied the partition of the Asian sub-continent in 1948 into India and Pakistan which created 10 million refugees and was accompanied by over 1 million deaths through communal slaughter.

Socialist and trade unionists, young workers and students the world over need to fight for the withdrawal of imperialist occupation forces from Iraq immediately. But this is only part of the struggle. A movement has to be built within Iraq amongst workers and young people across the ethnic and religious divide which opposes the armed militias reactionary and brutal drive towards civil war. In order to do this a programme of using Iraq’s huge resources for the good of the working class who make up the majority of the population, has to be fought for – a mass programme of job creation, house building and emergency food, power and medicine provision. Such a socialist programme would guarantee the rights of all ethinc and religious minorities and campaign for the setting up of a multi-ethnic defence force to defend all working class communities whatever their make-up from the religious and ethnic cleansing of the militias. Only if Iraq is in the hands of the working class and its economy and society democratically controlled can the corruption and violence which has blighted the country’s landscape for decades prevented.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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