Australasian Spartacist No. 232

Spring 2017


All U.S./Australian Forces Out of the Middle East Now!

Imperialists Devastate Mosul

We reprint below an article that first appeared in Workers Vanguard No. 1115 (28 July), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S. Australian military forces have played a role in the blood-drenched bombardment and siege of Mosul. We demand Australian and all imperialist military get out of the Middle East!

With thousands of airstrikes, rocket and artillery salvos, mortar attacks and helicopter gunship sorties, the U.S.-led coalition of imperialist powers, Iraqi army troops and federal police have turned the overwhelmingly Sunni western side of the city of Mosul into rubble. So complete is the destruction that it is being compared to the U.S./British bombing of Dresden and American firebombing of Tokyo during World War II.

In the name of “liberating” Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS), the months-long bombardment has left city streets littered with corpses, and over everything hangs the stench of decomposing bodies. Citing Kurdish reports, Patrick Cockburn estimates that at least 40,000 civilians have been killed (London Independent, 19 July). More than one million people have been displaced to camps that are no more than open-air prisons.

Almost a decade and a half after the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation, Iraq is mired in chaos, a seething cauldron of sectarian tensions pitting Shia against Sunni, Muslim against non-Muslim, Arab against Kurd. Some 6,000 American troops remain in the country, while hundreds more are in Syria as part of Washington’s drive to wipe out ISIS and reinforce U.S. imperialism’s domination of the Near East.

The U.S. rulers’ utter disdain for the lives of their neocolonial subjects is exemplified by Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who stated baldly on Face the Nation (28 May): “We have already shifted from attrition tactics where we shove them from one position to another in Iraq and Syria, to annihilation tactics where we surround them…. Civilian casualties are a fact of life.” Mattis knows something about “annihilation tactics.” A Marine Corps general in 2004, he led the assault on Falluja that slaughtered at least 600 Iraqi civilians and demolished much of the city. U.S. forces shot down people waving white flags, targeted ambulances and used white phosphorus, a chemical weapon that burns deep into muscle and bone.

Some liberal critics of U.S. policy point to the Trump administration’s changes to the “rules of engagement” as responsible for the recent carnage in Mosul and elsewhere. But it was Barack Obama who began the murderous escalation in the waning months of his administration. The overwhelming majority of the 19,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since August 2014 were carried out under the Democratic president’s command. This is on top of drone strikes that have killed and continue to kill civilians and combatants alike in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere.

The death and destruction wreaked by the U.S. ruling class is not a matter of the particular policies of either of its leading parties. They are necessarily a product of the capitalist system in its imperialist epoch, in which the rulers of the imperialist powers in North America, West Europe and Japan have thrown the planet into continual wars and occupations in order to extend their domination of the globe. Such slaughter is but the concentrated expression of a profit system that in its “normal” workings condemns many millions to death by malnutrition, lack of medical care and industrial murder. The same U.S. ruling class that rampages abroad makes life hell for working people at home, squeezing ever more profits from their labor, slashing their health and pension benefits, and unleashing the cops to kill black youth on the streets.

We fight to win the U.S. working class to the understanding that its enemy is its “own” ruling class and that it needs to oppose imperialist aggression abroad. What is desperately needed is class struggle against the capitalist rulers, both to defend the interests of workers at home and to hinder the global ambitions of U.S. imperialism. The Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League, aims to win the most conscious layers of the working class to the understanding that what is necessary to put an end to exploitation, racial oppression and endless imperialist slaughter is the overturn of the capitalist order through socialist revolution. We fight to forge a revolutionary internationalist, multiracial workers party. Built in opposition to the Democrats, Republicans and all capitalist parties, such a party would lead the struggle for working-class rule in the belly of the imperialist beast.

Imperialists Stoke Ethnic, Religious Fires

Mosul, known to Iraqis historically as the Pearl of the North, traces its history to the 25th century B.C. under the Assyrians. Then known as Nineveh, it was a key city in the Mesopotamian civilization that is often credited with such profound developments as the invention of the wheel, the first planting of cereal crops and the first use of cursive script. The origins of mathematics and early medical practice can also be traced to the city. Meaning “linking point,” Mosul is located astride a route that linked northern Mesopotamia with Anatolia and became a magnet for Arabs, Kurds and Turkic tribes. As a result of U.S. imperialist barbarism, this cradle of human culture now lies in ruins.

The continuous cycle of sectarian violence wracking Iraq, Syria and other Near Eastern countries is rooted in the schemes of British and French imperialism at the time of World War I (1914-18). Treaties drawn up during and after the war carved up the region into spheres of influence, amalgamating or splitting peoples according to the imperialists’ interests—including by denying statehood to the Kurdish nation. The secret treaties that created this tinderbox were exposed by the Bolshevik-led Soviet government only weeks after the October 1917 proletarian revolution in Russia, helping touch off mass anti-imperialist struggle in the Near East and elsewhere.

As a result of imperialist divide-and-rule, in a fundamental way there is no Iraqi nation. What exists is the Kurdish North, the Sunni Muslim center, the majority-Shia South and various other regions, overlaid with clan and tribal rivalries. Under Saddam Hussein’s brutal Ba’athist regime, Kurds, Yazidis, Assyrians, Shabaks, Armenians, Turkmen and Mandeans were forcibly displaced from Mosul and its outlying areas. In his government’s effort to encourage the influx of Arab Sunni settlers, an estimated 200,000 Kurds were driven out in 1978 and 1979.

At the time of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, we called for the military defense of this neocolonial country against imperialist attack, while maintaining our political opposition to the bourgeois Hussein regime. We warned that the carnage the imperialists were about to visit upon Iraq would reverberate throughout the region. Indeed, in their occupation, the U.S. imperialists have systematically played off one sector of the population against another. In 2004, they mobilized Shia militias and the Kurdish pesh merga to crush Sunni insurgents in Falluja. Their installation of Shia leader Nuri al-Maliki in 2006 as prime minister helped fuel bloody clashes between Shia and Sunni forces in which tens of thousands died.

More recently, the U.S. enlisted the Iraqi government, Shia militias and the pesh merga in its war against the Sunni-fundamentalist ISIS. The ISIS reactionaries are a direct product of U.S. imperialist machinations. ISIS is a split off from Al Qaeda, which itself grew out of Washington’s funding of the mujahedin who fought a reactionary war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In Iraq, ISIS also drew in support from Ba’athist intelligence and military officers purged by the U.S. after Hussein’s overthrow. After occupying Mosul in June 2014, ISIS slaughtered or forcibly expelled Shias and other “infidels.” With the leveling of Mosul and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs, the stage is now set for further acts of “ethnic cleansing” by Shia death squads.

The international proletariat has no side in the intercommunal conflict in Iraq and in Syria’s squalid civil war. But the workers do have a side against the U.S. imperialists—the main enemy not only of the peoples of the Near East but of the workers and oppressed at home. While we despise everything that ISIS stands for and in no way imbue them with anti-imperialist credentials, we understand that the blows they strike against U.S. military forces and their proxies—the Iraqi army, Shia militias and Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria—are objectively in the interests of the international working class, including in the U.S.

U.S./Saudi Arabia Strangle Yemen

The depredations of U.S. imperialism set the stage for a bloody unraveling of the region, in particular by sharply intensifying the conflict between Shia Iran and the Sunni-ruled Persian Gulf states (especially Saudi Arabia). The overthrow of Saddam Hussein led to a pro-Iran Shia regime in Iraq, where the U.S. is now in a military alliance not only with the Baghdad government but also Iranian-backed Shia militias. In Syria, Washington is backing Sunni fundamentalist rebels, mainly against the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran. At the same time, Washington continues to impose sanctions against Tehran. Workers in the U.S. and elsewhere must oppose these sanctions.

Under both Obama and Trump, the U.S. has provided intelligence, munitions and midair refueling of fighter jets for Saudi Arabia, which, since March 2015, has been waging war against the Zaidi Shia Houthis in Yemen (who the Saudis claim receive Iranian aid). In so doing, the U.S. is backing what is arguably the most reactionary regime in the world, Saudi Arabia. This key U.S. ally is a theocracy rooted in the extreme, Wahabi variant of Sunni fundamentalism, the social strictures of which are similar to those of ISIS. When a Saudi-led airstrike killed over 130 people at a funeral in Yemen last October, the Obama administration doubled the amount of fuel it was delivering to the war effort. Following in Obama’s footsteps, Trump, in one of his first acts as U.S. Commander-in-Chief, launched a Navy SEAL raid on a Yemeni village, killing some 30 civilians.

Now, as a result of the Saudi war, Yemen faces a massive cholera epidemic: at least 300,000 people have been infected and more than 1,700 have died. The epidemic has raged uncontrollably due to the lack of clean water supplies and sanitation systems. The disease has spread so widely that the World Health Organization has canceled plans to deliver an oral vaccine, also citing the danger posed for its personnel by Saudi bombing.

With U.S. and British backing, the Saudis have imposed a naval and aerial blockade of Yemen, worsening conditions for an impoverished population that relies heavily on imported food, fuel and other necessities. At least 10,000 people have been killed and some three million have been displaced. Airstrikes have destroyed schools, hospitals, infrastructure and the country’s agricultural sector. Almost two-thirds of Yemen’s 26 million people suffer from food shortages, with more than seven million acutely malnourished. Without giving the Houthi rebels any political support, we stand for their military defense against the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war.

In “Down With Saudi-Led War in Yemen!” (WV No. 1070, 12 June 2015), we noted that “more than a century of imperialist depredation has served to retard, and indeed reverse, social progress.” Pointing to proletarian concentrations, especially in Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Israel, the article continued:

“The only way to overcome the backwardness of the semicolonial world and cast off the yoke of imperialism is the program of permanent revolution. The working class, leading the peasantry and all the oppressed masses, must seize power through socialist revolution—sweeping away all the capitalist regimes of the region: the sheiks, emirs, military strongmen and Zionist rulers.

“The proletariat in power would reorganize society on the basis of collectivized property and fight to extend the revolution internationally, especially to the imperialist centers. In breaking the chains of exploitation that enslave it, the proletariat will simultaneously open the door to the liberation of all—peasants, women, youth, national and ethnic minorities—who are oppressed under capitalism. Only in a socialist federation of the Near East will there be a full and equal place for all the myriad peoples of the region—Sunnis, Shi’ites and Christians as well as the Kurdish, Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jewish nations.”

This perspective may seem very distant given the regression of proletarian consciousness since the destruction of the Soviet Union and the seeming invincibility of the imperialists. But the irrationality of the imperialists’ rule is itself a reflection of the decay and contradictions of their profit system, out of which the class struggle will continue to erupt. Propagating the Marxist worldview is part of our effort to reforge the Fourth International through building Leninist-Trotskyist parties, from the semicolonial world to the imperialist heartlands. Such parties will bring to the fore the principle of international working-class unity across national, religious and communal boundaries, in opposition to imperialism and all forms of bourgeois ideology and religious reaction.