Muslims at War
The war between the capitalist ruling minorities of Iran and Iraq is now in its fourth year. Both parties are able to buy as much military weaponry as they require – invariably from the same sellers. Neither side is prepared to compromise; both are determined to carry on fighting until the other accepts its terms and conditions of cease fire. The war could continue for years; so far it has cost the lives of more than a million workers -many of them youths -who have no interests at stake whatsoever. Poison gas has been used; civilian targets have been hit by long-range rockets and fighter planes are dropping napalm bombs. The war is now a testing laboratory for new means of destruction.
The origins of this conflict can be traced back to before the First World War, when Britain, France and Russia agreed secretly to divide the Ottoman Empire between themselves so as to expand the market for their commodities into the heart of the Middle East. After World War One Iraq became a part of the British overseas colonies. Then, in accordance with the principle of Divide and Rule, the whole political map of the Middle East was redrawn, with Iraq showing a majority of people of the Shiite faith. Shiite is an Islamic sect and the official religion of the Iranian ruling minority. Geographically, northern Iraq included a part of Kurdistan, as does Iran. The rich lands along the eastern side of Shatt Al-Arab fell within southern Iraq, but the Iranian ruling class objected to this and attempted to occupy all of the eastern side of the waterway. Iraqi territory was then under British protection, so the Iranian ruling class was impeded in its efforts.
When the map was redrawn Iraqi government fell into the hands of Arabs whose faith was, and still is, Sunni – another Islamic sect. Shiism and Sunnism are conflicting Arab faiths; only a minority of Iraqis are Sunnis. Iraq has never enjoyed political stability because it has constantly suffered from the territorial ambitions of the Iranian ruling class, who lost no opportunities to attack their Iraqi counterparts. Since the 1930s there have been groups existing within the mountains of Kurdistan in Iraq who have rejected the authority of the Iraqi government. As well as the Kurds, the Shiite majority in Iraq has resented Sunni government, feeling that they have been humiliated and discriminated against by the Iraqi ruling minority. Infact these divisions are rooted in economic and political interests and only take the form of religious conflicts. The Iraqi ruling minority was selected at the outset by the British government and have been used as a fist of iron to rule on behalf of capital, including the substantial overseas investments in Iraq. The Iraqi government has machine gunned demonstrators on the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi towns. They sent the RAF on bombing raids against the villages of Kurdistan and Arab tribes saw no reason to give up their ways of living and submit to the central authority of Iraq.
As a result of the widespread unpopularity of the government Iraq became a paradise for political opportunists, whose policy was to establish a new government claiming to represent all Iraqi people (not just the Sunnis) and claiming to be committed to individual freedom. Inreality, extreme nationalism was the common characteristic of all of them and in the long-term they helped to make the situation-in Iraq even worse. At the head of each of the opportunist parties was an individual or elite drawing support mainly on the basis of tribal loyalty or by bribery and pressure. Each party aimed to capture political power, often using unscrupulous and undemocratic methods such as the infiltration of the Iraqi army. As a result of these tactics, one military coup followed another; the one which brought the present Iraqi ruling elite, the Socialist Arab Baath party, occurred in 1963. Within twenty four hours of the Baath coup the new rulers eliminated their opportunist rivals, so establishing a dictatorship.
The Socialist Arab Baath Party took power with a policy of rigid nationalism and Arabism. They tolerated no opposition, although Baathist ideology was out of touch with the mainstream of Iraqi society. Firstly, more than one quarter of Iraqis are not Arabs and therefore opposed Baathist Arabism. Secondly, most Iraqi Arabs opposed Baathist ideology and openly opposed it as an alien idea. The Baathists responded in extreme terms: they started deporting people of Iranian origin to Iran; they attempted to ” Arabise” Kurdish villages and towns; they organised an aggressive military campaign against anti-government forces. The Baathist policy gave the Iranian ruling class a chance to revive their old territorial claims east of Shatt AI-Arab, using the political situation in Iraq as a pre- text. The Baathists refused the Iranian demands, claiming that it was an insult to the Arab nation. Iran used military force to take over eastern Shatt AI-Arab and sent military supplies to anti-government forces in Kurdistan. The Iraqi government in- creased its pressure on the anti-government Iraqi Kurds and, after a hard military campaign, it seemed that the Iraqi government were losing. As a result, Saddam Hussain, the Iraqi dictator, went to Algeria in 1975 to meet the Shah of Iran in order to persuade the latter to stop supplying anti- government forces with military aid. In return the Shah, and the class which he rep- resented, was officially granted eastern Shatt AI-Arab. After this the anti-government forces in Iraqi Kurdistan ceased to exist, but it was a deep humiliation for the Baathists. Another Iranian score needs to be mentioned at this point: in the 1960s the Iranian ruling class gained control of three small islands in the Arabian Gulf which had previously belonged to Britain. The Baathists were resentful about this, believing that these three islands should belong to “the Arab nation”.
The acceptance of Iran’s territorial claims left deep scars on the Iraqi Baathist regime, but they were saved by the fact that hard currency started to rain on them as a result of massively increased Iraqi oil revenue in the mid-1970s, caused by the increased demand by the world’s industrial capitalists. The Baathists devoted a substantial portion of this revenue to buying arms, which were only too readily supplied by the capitalist superpowers. Meanwhile, in Iran the old regime of the Shah collapsed as a result of popular discontent and was replaced by a dictatorship consisting of the followers of Ayatollah Khomeni. The new regime demoralised the Iranian army by executing its officers and dismantling many of its units in an attempt to prevent a counter revolution. This gave the Baathists the opportunity they had been waiting for to take military action against Iran and win back what they had lost. The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980, was started by the Baathists in the belief that it would be won within a few months. It is a continuation of an old struggle over control of territory and natural resources.
The war in Iran and Iraq is not in the interest of the working class, who are slaughtering each other so that their rulers can expand their spheres of ownership and control. Very few members of the Iranian or Iraqi ruling classes have been killed in the war over the past four years. It is workers – over half a million (more than Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki added together) – who have had to do the dying.