Committee for a Workers International - Statement on Irag and Kurdistan (fwd)

Spoon Collective spoons at jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
Tue Oct 1 21:18:41 MDT 1996

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 01 Oct 1996 19:10:48 +0200
From: Luciano Dondero <DOND001 at>
To: marxism at jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU, list <marxchat at>
Cc: perim at, jplant at, DavidMcR at,
    ecunning at, warren at,
    Louis N Proyect <lnp3 at>
Subject: Committee for a Workers International - Statement on Irag and  Kurdistan

Dear comrades,

the following "Statement on Iraq and Kurdistan" by the Committee for a
Workers International (the international organisation centered around the
British Militant Labour) puts the recent events in the region in their
historical context and the criss-crossing of social and national interests.

I hope it may be of help in organising both the much-needed discussion on
the Middle East and the concrete work of mobilisation against any
imperialist intervention.


Luciano Dondero



1) The spark that ignited the present crisis in the Middle East came
>from the decision by Saddam Hussein to intervene in the Kurdish "safe
area". This is entirely in line with Iraqi policy since 1991, which
has been guided by the desire to overcome the effects of the Gulf
War. Essentially, this means reasserting Iraqi sovereignty, which is
limited by the no-fly zones patrolled by US, British and French planes
and by the Kurdish "safe haven" which has escaped Baghdad's authority
since 1991. The Iraqi regime has also sought to get the UN embargo
lifted in order to be able to trade and sell its oil. But Saddam has
shown that he is prepared to see the $2 billion "oil for food"
agreement, laboriously negotiated with the UN, jeopardised or at the
least postponed in order to begin to reassert his control over Iraqi

2) When Massoud Barzani and the KDP sought the assistance of Iraqi
forces in their civil war with the PUK of Jalil Talabani, Baghdad
naturally jumped at the opportunity to re-introduce its forces into
Iraqi Kurdistan. Saddam had no doubt calculated that the "legitimacy"
which came from the KDP's invitation would enable them to present the
intervention as an internal Iraqi affair, and that this would limit
the US reaction, or at least international approval of it. This
calculation was fundamentally correct. Saddam's case was further
strengthened by the fact that Iran had intervened in Northern Iraq to
support the PUK in July, without provoking any reaction from

3) The US did intervene in retaliation by bombing Iraqi air defences
and bases in Southern Iraq. This intervention had of course nothing to
do with protecting the Kurds. Had this been the case, US bombers would
have hit Iraqi tanks and artillery in the North. But Washington has no
fundamental interest in defending the Kurds. Her ally Turkey has been
engaged since 1984 in a vicious war against the Kurds in Turkish
Kurdistan in which 20,000 have died, without the US lifting a
finger. Historically US and Western imperialism have always put the
stability of the region and the territorial integrity of Turkey, Iraq
and Iran before the national rights of the Kurdish people. This does
not exclude using the Kurds as pawns to destabilise a particular
regime at a particular moment.

4) The intervention is the latest episode in the ongoing American war
of attrition against Saddam, following on previous air strikes against
Iraq in January and June 1994. This has nothing to do with the fact
that Saddam Hussein is a dictator or that his regime has a bloody
record of repression against Kurds and all political opponents. After
forcing Saddam to leave Kuwait in 1991 the West sat back and watched
while he crushed popular uprisings all over Iraq, including in
Kurdistan, in March 1991. Furthermore America has never had any
compunction about having dictatorial regimes as its
allies/clients. Without looking further afield (Latin America, South
East Asia), in the Middle East the US is currently allied with Turkey,
Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, none of whom can claim to respect human

5) The US intervened because Saddam constitutes a problem which has
nothing to do with Kurds or democracy and everything to do with oil
and defending American clients in the region. A US official confirmed
this bluntly when he referred to the need to prepare for "when Saddam
wants to threaten something that's really important to us -- like
where 20 % of our oil comes from" (quoted in the London "Financial
Times", 16/09/96). What America fears most of all is that Saddam might
again threaten Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. This is a growing preoccupation
for US imperialism. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Gulf
states, which only a few years ago seemed extremely stable on the
basis of their oil wealth, are in reality quite fragile. Popular
opposition to the ruling families is overt in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia
and latent elsewhere. Any serious external threat might make these
regimes collapse like a house of cards. Over and above the particular
problem of Saddam Hussein, or fear of Iran, the need to protect its
oil supplies is the fundamental reason why US imperialism maintains
important land, air and naval forces in the Gulf.

6) Washington's primary objective in intervening was to send a warning
to Saddam Hussein in case he wished to try and intervene elsewhere. Of
course, Clinton was in part motivated by electoral considerations, by
the need to come across as a strong leader two months before the US
presidential election. But election or no election, US policy is to
keep Saddam "in his box", as US spokesmen put it. This is why America
has fought to keep the UN embargo on Iraq, which has caused immense
suffering. Not to Saddam Hussein, who has kept on building palaces,
but to the people of Iraq who lack food and medicine. The World Health
Organisation has calculated that 500,000 Iraqi children have died
since 1991 as a direct result of the embargo. One of the aims of the
US intervention was to block the "oil for food" deal which would have
partly lifted the embargo. But basically US policy was to reassert its
presence in the area and to remind Saddam of the limits to his
power. This is why the US strikes were in the South where Iraq has a
common frontier with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and why it is in the
South that the no-fly zone was extended.

7) US imperialism is caught on the horns of a dilemma. They would like
to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and they have clearly been engaged in
plotting with Iraqi dissidents. But there are two problems. In the
first place they do not want Saddam to be overthrown by a popular
uprising which could get out of control. That was shown by their
attitude in 1991. Secondly, they are far from confident that there is
a political alternative to Saddam capable of holding Iraq
together. The worst scenario for the US would be a break-up of Iraq
which could destabilise the whole region, with a de facto independent
Kurdish zone in the North and the Shi'ite majority rising up against
the Sunni elite and possibly coming under the influence of Iran.

8) If we go beyond the superficial impression that the KDP now
controls Iraqi Kurdistan, it is clear that the latest events represent
a serious setback for the decades-long struggle of the Kurdish people
to control their own destiny. The Iraqi Kurds had a historic
opportunity to establish and consolidate a de facto state in Northern
Iraq, and it was thrown away. The responsibility for this lies with
the criminal conduct of the leaderships of the two Iraqi Kurdish
parties, the KDP and the PUK. For most of the last five years these
two parties have been engaged in an intermittent civil war which has
claimed 3,000 lives. This war has not been over principles but simply
to decide who would control the land and population of Kurdistan. At
stake were the international aid which depended on the number of
people under each party's control, and control of trade. A major point
of conflict was the monopoly of the KDP over the Habur bridge frontier
crossing with Turkey, where it levied a tax on every cargo that went
through. This brought in between $100,000 and $250,000 a day. Most of
this money went straight into the bank accounts of the Barzani
family. The PUK is probably slightly less corrupt and is more urban
than the tribally based KDP, but there is no qualitative difference
between them. Neither of these leaderships can lead the Kurdish
struggle to victory. Over and above their corruption and defence of
their own narrow interests they make two mistakes that go against all
historical experience. They make pathetic appeals to the West to help
them, whereas the West, ever since it reneged on the promise of a
Kurdish state in the post-First World War settlement, has never helped
the Kurds. Secondly, they repeat the mistake that Kurdish leaderships
have often committed in the past, of trying to play one neighbouring
country off against another. At this game the Kurds have always been
the losers. The behaviour of both the KDP and the PUK, but especially
of the KDP in turning to Saddam, has provoked widespread
disillusionment with these leaderships, and laid the basis for
possible splits and divisions in the future. It has also enabled the
PKK, which originated in Turkish Kurdistan, to present itself as the
fighting representative of Kurdish unity. The PKK is now making a
determined bid to extend its influence in Iraqi Kurdistan.

9) Both Turkey and Iran, who fear that the emergence of any Kurdish
entity could have a contagious effect on the Kurdish populations in
their own countries, will view the weakening of the Kurdish safe haven
with a certain relief. In the case of Turkey, it will limit the
possibilities of the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK operating out of
Northern Iraq. Turkish policy is not limited to its threat of a South
Lebanon-style security zone along the border with Iraq. It could at
present impose such a zone, but it would be very difficult to maintain
it in the medium term against the opposition of both Iraq and Iran. It
will of course continue its periodic raids into Northern Iraq against
the PKK. But Ankara wishes to see a situation where PKK activity will
be repressed from the Iraqi side of the border. It already feels more
secure now that the KDP, which has in the past co-operated with it
against the PKK, is controlling Iraqi Kurdistan, with the Iraqi army
in reserve. This is the main reason why Turkey refused to support or
aid the US air strikes and why it only reluctantly agreed to open its
borders to Iraqi collaborators with the US. And it is no accident that
Barzani's first trip abroad after his victory over the PUK was to
Turkey, and that almost certainly more discreet direct contacts have
been established between Ankara and Baghdad. Iran may have suffered a
short-term tactical reverse with the defeat of the PUK, which it had
been supporting. And it will no doubt continue to support the PUK
along the border between the two countries, in order to prevent the
same border zone being used by the Iranian Kurds and other
Iraqi-backed oppositionists to raid into Iran. But it must also
welcome the weakening of the de facto autonomy of the Kurdish zone in
Iraq. In a broader sense, Iran is seeking to avoid being drawn into
the crisis, and to give no excuse to the US for any kind of
intervention against it. The beginning of the end of the safe haven
may fit into a more generalised offensive against the Kurds,
orchestrated by Turkey and aimed at defeating the rebellion of the
PKK. It seems clear that Ankara is seeking to reach agreement with
Syria and Iran whereby they would cut off their aid to the PKK,
although such agreement is not yet in sight.

10) Saddam Hussein has reason to feel pleased with himself. He has
re-established partial control over Northern Iraq. If for the moment
he has withdrawn his armed forces, his secret police are now operating
with relative freedom in the region. Many Iraqi oppositionists who had
sought refuge there have already been liquidated or arrested, others
have fled. No-one should be fooled by the fact that many of those
executed were Iraqi collaborators of the CIA. Saddam's whole record
shows that he will just as easily liquidate Communists and other
opponents who have no links with imperialism. As for the KDP, it will
certainly try to manoeuvre and to maintain its autonomy, still seeking
to use the US as a shield against Baghdad, which was undoubtedly the
subject of the meetings between Barzani and US representatives in
Turkey. Washington will of course aim to maintain its influence with
the KDP as a counterweight to Baghdad. US imperialism suffered a real
defeat with the loss of its foothold in Northern Iraq, illustrated by
the precipitate flight of CIA operatives and their Iraqi agents. It
will try to undo some of the damage.  But it is clear that it will not
intervene in Kurdistan, and the perspective is that the KDP will be
gradually ground down by Iraq, although Baghdad will probably have to
wait some time for the right conditions before completely re-imposing
is authority. Saddam has of course suffered renewed US attacks on his
air defences, which may or may not be repeated. But he retreated from
the brink by cancelling the order for his air force to fire on Western
planes overflying Iraq, and he is reinforced by the splits in the
coalition of 1991.

11) Intended to be a demonstration of US power, the intervention
against Iraq has in fact graphically demonstrated the limits of that
power, and the hollowness of the so-called "New World Order"Jthat was
supposed to have been installed with the victory of the US-led
coalition in 1991.  In the first place, US power is limited by the
extreme reluctance of Washington to commit its ground forces anywhere
where there is any risk of casualties, or even to commit air power at
close quarters where there is a risk of pilots being shot down or
captured. Secondly there is the division among the allies of
1991. Only Britain has supported the US right down the line, and the
US has even had to renounce trying to obtain UN approval for its
actions. Most of its European allies, while wishing to contain Saddam,
consider the American reaction both exaggerated and
ineffective. France has for some time been campaigning to have the
embargo lifted. This is not just a difference of political analysis on
how to deal with Saddam, or another assertion of French
"independence". France has material interests at stake. She is one of
Iraq's main trading partners and in the 1960s replaced Britain as
Iraq's principal arms supplier. French is even the official second
language of Iraq. Turkey, in addition to her willingness to
collaborate with Saddam against the Kurds, also has material
interests. She has already lost $27 billion dollars in trade because
of the embargo, and was looking forward to profiting from the oil for
food deal. Russian and Chinese opposition to the US intervention is
partly motivated by disquiet at the possible consequences of the new
American doctrine that Washington has the right to intervene anywhere
in the world that US interests are threatened. But Russia also has
specific reasons for supporting Iraq. These are both diplomatic, to
reactivate the Soviet-era alliance with Saddam and economic, in terms
of developing trade and hoping for the repayment of the substantial
Iraqi debt to the ex-Soviet Union, which Russia has inherited.

12) What has also been revealed is the failure of the American foreign
policy objective of "dual containment" of Iran and Iraq. If Iraq is
still being contained in the South, Iran's influence in the region is
steadily growing and American attempts to isolate Tehran are not
proving very effective: in particular the European powers are strongly
resisting US sanctions against Iran. And to the extent that US
imperialism does succeed in weakening Iraq, it will simultaneously
strengthen Iran, which is now seen as a greater threat by US
imperialism's clients in the Gulf. Paradoxically Iran itself considers
the weakening of Iraq as mixed blessing. More precisely it is in
favour of weakening Saddam but against a break-up of the Iraqi
state. Any short-term increase in its influence which it would gain
>from this would be largely offset by the potentially destabilising
effect of a new Afghanistan on its borders.

13) With the collapse of Stalinism, the end of bipolarity in the
region -- where states were allied either with the US or with the
Soviet Union -- has given way to a generalised instability. No new
stable balance of power has emerged. Further crises and conflicts are
absolutely inevitable, and not only around the Kurdish
question. Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria all have their regional power
interests to defend, and to do so they will alternately turn to
Western imperialism, assert their independence, or try to play on the
differences with Europe and the US, as Iran is currently seeking to
do. Even Turkey, traditionally an unconditional ally of the West, is
evolving towards a more independent foreign policy. This is not only
because of the arrival in government of the Islamic Refah Party, but
for more profound reasons of the national interests of the Turkish
ruling class. Aside from the Kurdish question, which can be a cause of
conflict between the countries concerned, but also a reason for
co-operation, there are other points of conflict. In particular there
is the conflict between Turkey on the one hand and Syria and Iraq on
the other over water resources. There is also the competition between
Turkey and Iran for political influence and trade deals with the
ex-Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia. There are also
latent territorial disputes between the different countries. But all
of them hesitate to open the Pandora's box of challenging the existing
frontiers for fear of the consequences to themselves. That is why all
the states of the region continue to defend the principle of the
territorial integrity of Iraq.

14) In the wider region, beyond the group of states directly concerned
with the Kurdish question, the situation is no more stable. The rise
of opposition to the pro-US regimes of the Arabian peninsula poses the
most worrying long-term problem for imperialism and can have explosive
consequences. And the unresolved Palestinian question and the conflict
between Israel and the Arabs, particularly Syria and Lebanon, add a
further element of crisis and potential conflict which would affect
the whole region.

15) The refusal of the Arab members of the Gulf War coalition to
support the US air strikes is partly motivated by domestic
considerations. The US intervention has had the effect of stimulating
anti-imperialist sentiment in the region. Arabs, and more generally
Muslims, feel that there is one law for the US and its allies and
another for the rest of the world, and more specifically that it is
always the Muslims who are on the receiving end -- Iraq,
Lebanon-Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia. America lets its own allies
(notably Israel) do as they please and only intervenes when its own
interests are at stake, in particular its sources of oil.  This
anti-imperialist sentiment can of course be derailed in a Muslim
fundamentalist direction or be utilised by Saddam, but it can also be
the beginning of a mobilisation against US imperialism which can be
turned in a socialist direction.

16) This rise of anti-imperialist feeling has to be taken into account
by even the most reactionary Arab regimes, like Saudi Arabia. No Arab
government can afford to be seen to be a pure stooge of American
imperialism. Even Kuwait hesitated before accepting more US troops on
its soil. Furthermore, most of the Arab regimes have grave doubts as
to the efficacy of American policy in containing Saddam. For some of
them in particular, there is another reason for withholding support to
Washington: disappointment at America's failure to compel Israel to
continue the peace process with the Palestinians. This is particularly
the case with Syria, which also wants the pro-Western stance it
adopted at the time of the Gulf War to be rewarded by America
pressurising Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights and South
Lebanon. There is also a general unease at the precedent being set, of
placing limitations on Iraqi sovereignty, which could be used against
other states in the future.

17) Recent events have shown again that imperialism and in particular
US imperialism remains the main enemy of the workers and peasants of
the Middle East and the main support of Israel and the reactionary
Arab regimes. Socialists should have no hesitation in opposing its
interventions even though they are against regimes like Iran or Iraq
which repress their own people. It is not because they are repressive
that imperialism intervenes against them but because they manifest a
certain degree of independence in relation to imperialism. We call for
the withdrawal of all imperialist forces from the region, and for the
lifting of imperialist-imposed embargoes, in particular the embargo on

18) The task of overthrowing the Arab regimes, whether overtly
reactionary or supposedly anti-imperialist falls to the workers and
peasants of those countries. It is part of the same struggle to drive
out imperialism and take control of the region's resources in order to
use them for the benefit of all the peoples of the region. This means
establishing a Socialist Federation of the Middle East. In this
Socialist Middle East there is a place for the Kurdish people. The
only way in which they can exercise their right to self-determination
is by fighting against all the states which oppress them, and their
allies in this will not be the imperialist powers but the Arab,
Turkish and Iranian workers and peasants. The fight for liberation of
the Kurdish people from oppression and of the Arab masses and all the
peoples of the region from imperialism is inseparable from the fight
for a Socialist Middle East.

25th September 1996.
--Luciano Dondero--

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