Twenty years later: the predatory imperialist war against Iraq

While the heroic resistance was defeating US and British imperialist forces, the British working class was effectively demobilised by its corrupted leadership.

Despite claiming to spread democracy wherever they go, the rulers of Britain and the USA went to war against the wishes of their own people and even many of their allies, but with the full support of the Labour aristocracy. One year later, trade unionists gave war criminal Tony Blair a standing ovation at their annual congress.

The 20th of March this year marked the 20th anniversary of the start of Anglo-American imperialism’s war against Iraq. Although there was mass opposition to this war, most of the print and electronic media, including the BBC, whipped up jingoistic hysteria against Iraq and in favour of the war. Twenty years on there is hardly anyone who can be found to speak in favour of it.

Many respectable bourgeois newspapers have published articles, written by respectable bourgeois journalists, condemning this war. We just take one such article as an example. It appeared in the Sunday Times of 19 March 2023 under the half-misleading title ‘Ever noticed how much less stable the world is now than in 2003? Well, Blair’s to blame’, the author, Mr Rod Liddle, had, among other things, the following to say:

“Twenty years ago today the US and British tanks rolled into Iraq in an illegal invasion,” which, contrary to the assertions of “one of its chief progenitors, Tony Blair, did not entirely suffuse the Iraqi people with joy. It was an illegal war launched on a false pretext that, I suspect, both Blair and George W Bush knew was a false pretext.” The result was a million Iraqi deaths, “civil war and chaos – which later overspilt into Isis and the Syrian civil war, where a further half a million lost their lives”.

Those few who still believe that this was a “wholly marvellous enterprise” are, Mr Liddle expressed the hope, “receiving the appropriate medical interventions”.

In addition to the dead, injured and displaced, the material destruction, and the costs of the war, the Iraqi invasion “ensured that the UK would (justifiably) bear the brunt of muslim fury for decades to come and destroyed the notion – which some people still had – that Britain was a civilised country. It greatly enhanced the islamist cause.”

In his rush to participate in the war on Iraq, Blair and his close associates resorted to lies, “suborning of the security services; the misleading of the House of Commons and the electorate”. For our part, we must say that the security services and the majority of the members of the House of Commons were willing participants in this criminal predatory enterprise.

Determined as Blair’s Labour government was to launch this barbaric war, it was not going to allow such a trifle as the utter absence of weapons of mass destruction (the main pretext for waging the war) to stand in its way. As Mr Liddle sarcastically pointed out: “Hell, Saddam did not have even weapons of very little destruction.”

Having been instrumental in bringing such death, destruction and suffering to the Iraqi people, Blair “disappeared to trouser vast amounts of money” from various dictatorships in the middle east and central Asia.

What Mr Liddle finds most problematic is that “the rank ideology which underpinned” Blair’s decision to go to war, namely “evangelistic liberal interventionism”, imperialism in plain language, is “still extant, still popular, still considered worth believing in”, which Mr Liddle, unable to resist a jibe at communism, says has “caused more misery, more deaths, more displacement, than either Marxism or islamism in the last 40 years. It is the notion that we know best how Johnny Foreigner should be governed: we know what these strange people want and what is good for them.”

What the imperialist bourgeoisie calls ‘liberal interventionism’ is, in plain language, wars for domination waged by imperialism: wars which, during the past 100 years, have claimed the lives of over 100 million people, wounded many millions more, and destroyed colossal amounts of wealth. These wars, and the ideology underpinning them, will not disappear until the overthrow and destruction of imperialism.

And the communists are the foremost leaders in the fight to destroy imperialism. If this horrifies Mr Liddle, it only goes to show what deep roots the ideology of imperialism (‘evangelical liberal interventionism’, if it pleases Mr Liddle) has struck in its principal heartlands.

Although written with the intention of denouncing Tony Blair, Mr Liddle’s article ended up by almost exonerating his criminality by attributing his conduct to “arrogance and dim-wittedness”, or just plain ‘gullibility’. Mr Blair, Mr Liddle writes, was “particularly gullible” for he believed that “All you have to do is to remove Saddam and the people will embrace democracy, freedom and equality for all, perhaps electing for themselves a kind of Iraqi equivalent of Vince Cable or Nick Clegg”!

(Nick Clegg, of course, was the deputy prime minister in the Conservative-Liberal coalition that waged a genocidal war against the Libyan people, resulting in the murder of President Gaddafi and the destruction of Libya. That by and by.)

More to the point, there was nothing gullible about Blair. There is not a shred of evidence to support the assertion that he led Britain into the war against Iraq in order to bring democracy at gunpoint to that wonderful and prosperous country. Neither Britain nor the USA have the least interest in democracy.

They waged that war for domination of Iraq and the entire middle east, and to grab its vast mineral wealth. Doubtless, like all leaders of imperialist countries, they were arrogant, believing that people would bow to their diktat and not rise up in revolt. Doubtless they were dim-witted in the sense that they went against the march of history. Doubtless, like all reactionaries, they were fools who lifted a rock only to drop it on their own feet.

All this is quite different from the way Mr Liddle understands it. But for all that, it is useful to have a journalist like Liddle, writing in a mainstream bourgeois organ like the Sunday Times, condemning the perpetrators of this imperialist criminal enterprise.

A criminal war that had been long in the making

It was not just US president George Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair who instigated this war. The entire establishment in the USA, and by and large in Britain, were its enthusiastic supporters, as were the media in these two countries – a war that they had been preparing for over a decade before it began.

What is often lost sight of is how popular among the ruling circles of these countries was a more ‘assertive’ Iraq policy. It was during the presidency of Bill Clinton, of notoriety associated with the destruction of Yugoslavia, that the Iraq Liberation Act, which made it a cornerstone of US policy “to support efforts to remove the regime by Saddam Hussein” passed Congress in 1998 with a thumping majority. In 2002, the authorisation for war received 77 votes in the Senate and 296 in the House of Representatives.

“We have no choice but to eliminate the threat,” declared Senator Joe Biden then, the same war criminal who now occupies the White House and is presently leading a coalition of all the imperialist countries in a vain attempt to destroy Russia through a proxy in the present conflict in Ukraine.

While treating with contempt the democratic will of their own people, who overwhelmingly opposed the Iraq war, the governments of the USA and Britain launched their war in the name of democracy. This was especially true of the imperialist British Labour government whose lies, hypocrisy, cynicism and total disregard for democratic opinion in the service of British imperialism surpassed all previous records of British imperialist administrations, be they Labour, Tory or Liberal.

Though the war was launched on the pretext of Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi government’s alleged links with terrorism, its real purpose was to monopolise the oil resources of Iraq and other countries in the middle east, which account for two-thirds of global proven reserves, and 30 percent of production of this precious raw material.

Precisely to this end, they assembled a quarter of a million military personnel (of whom 42,000 were British soldiers, representing one-third of the British armed forces) in the Gulf region, backed by hundreds of tanks, fighter aircraft, ships and other instruments of mass slaughter. This simple truth, which eludes the so-called left wing of social democracy and its hangers-on, is recognised by an honest bourgeois scholar, Professor Jeffrey Sachs. Writing in the Financial Times of 10 September 2003, he pointed out:

“The fatal flaw in the US occupation is that America is in Iraq not to create democracy, hasten economic development, capture weapons of mass destruction or fight terrorists but to create a long-term military and political base to protect the flow of middle-east oil. This much is widely appreciated throughout the Gulf region, where the local population has been treated to a century of contempt, first by the British empire and later by the USA.

“Decade after decade has seen these two powers oppose democratic rule, topple popular governments and side with the autocratic and corrupt rulers, always in the interests of oil.” (Bush’s billions will only prolong Iraq’s suffering)

Professor Sachs correctly concluded that the USA was a part, not of a solution, but of the Iraqi problem, and the longer its occupation lasted, the greater would be the agony of the Iraqi people.

Imperialism seeks domination

In his epoch-making work on imperialism, this is how VI Lenin explained the subject under consideration:

“The principal feature of modern capitalism is the domination of monopolist combines of the big capitalists. These monopolies are most firmly established when all the sources of raw materials are controlled by one group. And we have seen with what zeal the international capitalist combines exert every effort to make it impossible for their rivals to compete with them: for example, by buying up mineral land, oil fields, etc.

“Colonial possession [or neocolonial control] alone gives complete guarantee of success to the monopolies against all the risks of the struggle with competitors … The more capitalism is developed, the more the need for raw materials is felt, the more bitter competition becomes, and the more feverishly the hunt for raw materials proceeds throughout the whole world, the more desperate becomes the struggle for the acquisition of colonies [or spheres of influence].” (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916, Chapter 6)

Lenin went on to explain that monopolies in economics are incompatible with non-monopolistic, non-violent and non-annexationist methods in politics. Those who assert otherwise, those who say that imperialism could be peaceful and non-predatory are simply engaged in the business of presenting imperialism in beautiful colours. One cannot, in the final analysis, be against war without opposing imperialism, for without striking at “the economic basis of the trusts and banks, the ‘struggle’ against the policy of the trusts and banks reduces itself to bourgeois reformism and pacifism”.

To overcome the opposition at home and abroad to the then-impending war, Bush and Blair resorted to every possible lie and trick, manufactured a dodgy dossier of fake ‘evidence’, and worked themselves into a hysterical lather to make the case for war.

Bush dispatched his secretary of state, Colin Powell, to the United Nations security council, there to utter blatant lies in an effort to enlist support for Anglo-American imperialism’s predatory war against Iraq. He appeared before the security council on 5 February 2003, and his much-touted ‘intelligence’ about Iraqi weapons was an outrageous mixture of assertions, fabrications and plain lies. His presentation was so lacking in substance that it failed to convince anyone.

In the end, having failed miserably to gain much support, and desperate to unleash an imperialist predatory war against Iraq, just before 3.00am on 20 March 2003, the Anglo-American imperialists launched their assault with massive and overwhelming force.

By 9 April, the aggressors had largely seized Baghdad, marking the fall of the Iraqi government. So flushed were the perpetrators of this outrage with their sense of victory that Bush delivered a victory speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, with a background banner proclaiming ‘Mission Accomplished’.

Later in the year, the US occupiers managed to capture president Saddam Hussein and, after a sham trial, had him hanged in 2006 in an attempt to legitimise their predatory war. The day after this judicial murder of the Iraqi president, the CPGB-ML issued a statement which stated:

“The real criminals are not Saddam and his co-defendants; the real criminals are the perpetrators of the vicious, brutal, inhuman war on Iraq. Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld, Rice et al are directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents. It is not Saddam who deserves the ultimate punishment for their horrendous crimes. They must be tried for war crimes in an international trial of the Nuremberg type.”

Lalkar fully associated itself with this statement and continues to do so.

Corruption of working-class leadership in the imperialist heartlands

The ruling classes of the imperialist countries are able to launch their predatory wars because the working class is far too passive and docile, thanks to the vicelike grip exerted by opportunism and the opportunist leadership. In his opening address to the National Convention to establish the Communist Party of Great Britain on 31 July 1920, Chairman Arthur MacManus had this to say:

“We ought by now to have made it so uncomfortable for these people [Lloyd George, Churchill, etc] that, instead of standing on a pedestal and dictating to the rest of the world as to how it should conduct itself, they would have enough to do looking after us here to prevent them having any time to worry about other countries.”

One hundred and four years on, this is, sadly, still the case.

The ruling classes of the imperialist countries continue to wage predatory wars abroad in an attempt to dictate to the oppressed peoples how they should conduct themselves because the proletariat at home have not yet made it so uncomfortable for them that they have their work cut out looking after the workers in the countries of imperialism to have any time left over for engaging in slaughters in foreign lands.

It is time to wipe away this shame from the face of the working class.

This, however, cannot be done without exposing, and defeating, opportunism in the working-class movement, especially in that part of it which uses Marxist rhetoric, but is in reality an appendage of social democracy, the most deadly enemy of the working class and faithful servant of imperialism – the Trotskyites and revisionists, who continue in their disgusting role as the defenders of social democracy, presenting the latter as the instrument for the social emancipation of the proletariat.

The roots of opportunism

Characterising imperialism as “monopoly capitalism”, Lenin explained that: “A handful of wealthy countries … have developed monopoly to vast proportions, they obtain superprofits running into hundreds, if not thousands, of millions, they ‘ride on the backs’ of hundreds of millions of people in other countries and fight among themselves for the division of particularly rich, particularly fat and particularly easy profits.”

He went on: “The bourgeoisie of an imperialist ‘great’ power can economically bribe the upper strata of ‘its’ workers by spending on this a hundred million or so of francs a year, for its superprofits most likely amount to about a thousand million.” (Imperialism and the split in socialism, 1916)

Elsewhere, he had pointed out: “In the conditions of war … opportunism leads to social chauvinism. The idea of class collaboration is opportunism’s main feature.” (The collapse of the Second International, 1915)

Thus we find in that short sentence the answer we require. The very reason why the trade unions supported the government in the occupation of Iraq was that it is the interests of the labour aristocracy, the upper, bribed, layer of the working class, to do so.

This is precisely the reason why the trade unions today shamelessly support the neo-nazi Nato’s proxy war against Russia using the Ukrainian masses as cannon fodder. Even people who call themselves communists have fallen in line behind Nato.

Some of these disgraceful ‘communists’ hide their opportunism with the use of ultra-‘revolutionary’ phraseology, characterising the conflict in Ukraine as an ‘interimperialist war’, instead of enlightening the working class by emphasising that the Nato imperialist bloc is waging a proxy war against Russia; that the workers are duty-bound to support Russia and not adopt a neutral position, which in essence means siding with Nato.

Renegacy of the ‘antiwar’ movement

It was the duty of the proletariat to oppose Anglo-American imperialism’s predatory war against Iraq, or, for that matter, any other such war; it was the duty of the proletariat to work for the defeat of our own imperialist bourgeoisie and for the victory of the Iraqi people. Equally, it is the duty of the proletariat to oppose Nato’s proxy war against Russia, to support Russia, and to call for the defeat of Nato.

The peace movement in Britain, such as it is, though nominally opposed to war, is by no means opposed to imperialism. Nor could one expect otherwise, for the leadership of the peace movement is firmly in the hands of social democracy and its hangers-on. To wrest the leadership of the peace movement from the clutches of the ‘left’ wing of social democracy, and to bring it under the wing of those who espouse and uphold the struggle against imperialism, is one of the most urgent tasks facing the working-class movement.

In Britain, in the period before the start of the war, the antiwar movement developed exponentially in preparation for the 15 February 2003 demonstration, the largest ever seen in Britain, then or since. The ‘left’ wing of the Labour party, as well as the LibDems, opportunistically jumped on the bandwagon, but only on the basis that the war had not been anointed with a security council resolution, which would have eased their consciences and helped them to go along with the imperialist slaughter in Iraq.

Such a resolution would have absolutely legitimised the war in their view and in their propaganda. It was the duty of the antiwar movement to expose such people. Instead, the Stop the War Coalition, betraying the interests of the British proletariat and the oppressed people, especially those of Iraq, appended its signature to the following letter in December 2002 on the occasion of UN Human Rights Day:

“We call upon you as prime minister to give a clear undertaking not to engage in military action against Iraq without the explicit authority of the United Nations, and without the explicit decision of the House of Commons to do so.”

Signatories to this shameful letter included the leading lights of ‘left’ Labourite MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the Chairperson of CND and the Convenor of Stop the War, the Trotskyite Lindsey German. No one with even the pretence of espousing socialist principle could have signed this letter, for it is implied that the signatories would not oppose the then-impending unjust imperialist war as long as it had been sprinkled with the holy water of a UN resolution and blessed with a resolution of the House of Commons.

Instead of enlightening the antiwar movement about the imperialist nature of British democracy, the Stop the War leadership, capitulating to the interests of the Labour party and its concerns for the careers of its ‘left’ wing Labour MPs, made much of the ‘rebellion’ by 140 MPs who on 18 March voted for an amendment to the resolution in support of the government’s war policy.

This amendment simply stated that parliament “believes that the case for war against Iraq has not been established, especially given the absence of specific UN authorisation, but in the event hostilities do commence, pledges its total support for the British forces engaged in the middle east, expresses its admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty, and hopes that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides”.

No wonder that Lenin insisted on a relentless struggle against opportunism, for “Most dangerous are those who do not wish to understand that the struggle against imperialism is a sham and a humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism.” (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916, Preface to the French and German editions)

No wonder he insisted on the necessity of explaining to the masses “the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism”. (Imperialism and the split in socialism, 1916)

One of the pretexts used by the Trotskyites and revisionists for their slavish support of the Labour party is that the latter has, through the support of the trade unions, deep connections with the working class, and that we cannot divorce ourselves from the masses.

This is an absurd assertion. First, because the unions do not represent more than a quarter of the workforce – the overwhelming majority of the latter are not in unions. Second, because the membership of the unions is constituted by and large by the upper layers of the working class – the labour aristocracy – whose interests the Labour party represents now, as it has always done. This labour aristocracy sides with, and defends, the interests of imperialism, without which, without the imperialist superprofits, it cannot defend its own privileged position.

That is clear to anyone who has not shut his eyes and stuffed his ears. The attitude taken by this labour aristocracy towards imperialist wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the present proxy war against Russia are glaring examples of its total subservience to British imperialism. On any important question of foreign and domestic policy, this scoundrelly gentry unfailingly line up on the side of imperialism – ‘Versailles against the Communards’, to use Lenin’s apt terminology.

Confining ourselves to the war against Iraq, at the end of September 2004, the TUC at its annual conference passed a motion against the war, but two weeks later, the leaders of the unions rallied around Blair at the Labour party conference and helped him defeat, by a majority of six to one, a constituency motion calling for an “early date for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq”. They even staged a standing ovation for Blair, the war criminal.

Instead of denouncing the treachery of this coterie of labour aristocrats to the cause of the national liberation of the oppressed peoples; instead of inculcating among the working class the necessity of aligning itself with the oppressed people, the leadership of Stop the War and other apologists of social democracy continue chanting the mantra that the Labour party is the party of the working class – precisely when the need is to emphasise that “The revolutionary movement in the advanced countries would actually be a sheer fraud if, in their struggle against capital, the workers of Europe and America were not closely and completely united with hundreds upon hundreds of millions of ‘colonial’ slaves who are oppressed by capital.” (VI Lenin, The Second Congress of the Communist International, 1920)

Abject failure and defeat for the invaders

Anglo-American imperialist forces entered Iraq expecting an easy victory and to be greeted as liberators, only to be greeted by a raging war of resistance. Faced with this resistance, the occupation forces turned to their time-honoured weapons – mass indiscriminate slaughter and psychological propaganda – to demoralise the people of Iraq.

They intensified their carpet-bombing (‘precision bombing’ in imperialist-speak) of Iraqi cities and towns, in the process killing vast numbers of civilians, sparing neither hospitals nor schools, television studios, market places, restaurants, residential districts, airports, power plants, sewage facilities or food storage depots.

In this total war, the enemy was the Iraqi people. The Iraqi infrastructure, and all the country’s means of modern existence, were reduced to rubble. Iraq, with a standard of living previously equivalent to that of Portugal, lay in ruins. A country with the second-largest oil reserves in the middle east could not provide electricity to its people for more than a few hours a day.

In their desperation, the occupying forces established special prisons, concentration camps, where prisoners were routinely tortured in the most sadistic manner. Abu Ghraib, which gained worldwide notoriety, was just one of these centres. Journalists who tried to expose imperialist brutality often met with death at the hands of the occupying forces. Julian Assange is still being pursued for telling the truth and exposing imperialist war crimes through his Wikileaks platform.

And these criminals have the shameless audacity to lecture leaders of other countries about human rights, democracy and the rule of law – all in the name of their ‘rules-based international order’!

It soon became clear that the war was an ignominious disaster for the imperialist forces as they got stuck deeper and deeper into the quagmire. As the military and economic costs of the war registered a steep rise, the imperialist predators were denuded of their delusions. Within a very short period of the start of their rulers’ criminal enterprise, most of the people in the USA and Britain, let alone elsewhere, came rightly to express doubts about its continuation.

There were not many who did not consider that the war was a debacle. The ruling circles, in the vain hope of achieving victory, doubled down and continued their daily slaughter. Between 2003 and 2011, over 4,000 US military personnel were killed and 31,000 were wounded, while at least a million Iraqis met their deaths at the hands of the imperialist ‘liberators’. Not only Iraq, but the entire middle east, was destabilised. No weapons of mass destruction were found, thus exposing the imperialist lies and deceit.

The war gave rise to sectarianism, instigated by the occupying forces with a view to weakening the Iraqi resistance – and this in a country that had been one of the most secular in the entire region. The occupying forces conjured into existence al-Qaeda and the broader jihadist movement, which had been non-existent in the country prior to the invasion.

Nobody really knows the costs of this war to the US Treasury, though well-informed sources put it at somewhere between two and three trillion dollars.

Rather than strengthening the USA’s geopolitical position, the Iraq war weakened it everywhere; it strengthened Iran and caused a serious rift with some of Washington’s key allies such as France and Germany.

By 2013, most US troops, though not all, had been forced out of Iraq, leaving a deep scar on the American psyche, undermining domestic confidence in US power and leadership. By 2014, the percentage of Americans saying that the USA should keep out of world affairs was higher than at any time since polling on the question began. By 2016, the year Donald Trump was elected president of the USA under the slogan ‘America First’, 57 percent of respondents in a Pew Research Centre survey agreed that Washington should mind its own business, repeating the scenario that ensued in the aftermath of the American defeat in Vietnam.

In fact, there is hardly a war waged by the imperialist forces since the end of the second world war in which they have not suffered defeat – from Korea, through Vietnam, to Iraq, to Afghanistan. And now the combined forces of Nato imperialism are inexorably heading for another defeat in their present proxy war against Russia.

Workers everywhere owe a debt of undying gratitude to the Iraqi resistance for inflicting a crushing defeat to Anglo-American imperialism.

Glory to the people of Iraq!
Death to imperialism!