The same sort of Islamist terrorists who killed more than fifty people in London on 7 July are also killing people in Iraq, and on a far bigger scale.
A report just published by Iraq Body Count summarises research on civilian deaths in Iraq from March 2003 to March 2005. At that point, killings of civilians by “anti-occupation forces, unknown agents, and crime” were running at an average of about thirty a day, while killings by US-led forces — very large over the whole period because of the numbers killed in the 2003 invasion and the two big attacks on Fallujah — were down to about one every two days.
Since then the campaign in Iraq by al Qaeda and other Sunni-supremacist and Islamist forces has increased. Up to the 18th of the month, there had been more than 40 suicide bombings in July, killing 269 people and injuring 558.
A single attack on Saturday 16 July, in which a suicide bomber blew up a petrol tanker next to a Shia mosque in Musayyib, killed some 98 people.
To combat the Islamist terrorist threat, the labour movement should rally to support the new Iraqi workers’ movement, the only force in Iraq which can shape a free, democratic and secular future there and undercut the Islamists.
The aim of the terrorist attacks is to transform Iraq into a totalitarian Islamic state, run according to the Islamists’ interpretations of 1400-year-old texts. Socialists, trade unionists, secularists, independent-minded women, and the “wrong sort of” Muslims (including the Shia) are all targets.
Even the more “reformist” of the Islamists are not safe. Leaders of the Iraq Islamic Party, which belongs to the same political family as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Muslim Association of Britain, have been targeted. Why? Because the party served in the 2004-5 Interim Government of Iraq, had a list of candidates in the 30 January elections and is participating in discussions on a new constitution.
With sufficient international support, Iraq’s new labour movement can win democratic rights. It can win space for itself, and for civil society, to develop. It can end the occupation. It can win over the angry, frustrated, disoriented youth who form a recruiting pool for the Islamists.
Two false answers should be avoided. One says that the rise of Islamist terrorism in Iraq and its flow-over into London was caused by the US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq, and deduces that the Islamists can be dealt with by immediately withdrawing the US/UK forces from Iraq.
On Sunday 17 July, when claiming four suicide bombings in Baghdad, al Qaeda announced a campaign to take control of the city. If their forces and morale were boosted by the prestige of being the people who, by their London bombing, forced the US and the UK out of Iraq, they would extend it to a campaign to take control of all Iraq.
We do not know who would win the ensuing civil war in Iraq; but for certain the new Iraqi labour movement would be crushed in the process, and all democratic and women’s rights destroyed.
At best the cry for immediate US and British withdrawal comes down to saying: give al Qaeda a free hand to kill 5000 more in Iraq, and then maybe they will not kill 50 in London. It is one of the worst forms of little-Britainism. Under the guise of militant anti-imperialism, it means teaching indifference to the fate of people in Iraq, and anywhere other than Britain. It is like saying in the mid-1930s: “Immediately rescind the Treaty of Versailles! That will put a stop to Nazism”.
Al Qaeda fights for Islamic dictatorship and Sunni domination in Iraq, not for national liberation. And for them Iraq is only part of the bigger fight for a world Islamic empire.
To Bush and Blair in Iraq, we should counterpose solidarity with the Iraqi labour movement - not solidarity, explicit or implicit, with Al Qaeda or other Islamist-fascists.
Islamist terrorism is not just an automatic reflex response to the misdeeds of the USA and the UK. It has its own roots and political identity. It was active long before 2003.
The other false answer is to say that the terrorist danger is so great that the labour movement should rally to a general unity of all “democratic forces” or all “moderates” — Bush, Blair, the Iraqi transitional government — against it.
Islamist-terrorism is a special danger. To discount it by referring to the bigger numbers of dead and injured through poverty, exploitation, and war worldwide is tantamount to declaring democracy, the rule of law, and peoples like those of Iraq, matters of indifference to us.
We should see the Islamist-terrorists as a special danger for the same reason that we would see their desired Islamic dictatorship - for which their bombings are, so to speak, enforcement in advance - as a special danger, more than the everyday horrors of capitalism.
So, yes, from a working-class point of view the Islamist-terrorists are worse than Blair and Bush. It does not follow that political self-prostration before Blair and Bush is the way to defeat them, any more than the Popular Fronts of the 1930s were the way to beat fascism then, or the Cold War consensus of the 1950s the way to beat Stalinism.
As Patrick Cockburn notes in the Independent (19 July): “Almost every Iraqi family I know has a friend or relative who has been accidentally killed by edgy American soldiers”. Meanwhile, the US dogma of contracting-out reconstruction to mostly US-based profiteers denies Iraqis jobs, clean water, electricity, and petrol. The Iraqi labour movement fights to get rid of the US/UK forces in its own progressive way, rather than by victory for the reactionaries. It refuses to "unite with" the Transitional Government - and must do so, if it is to rally the disaffected people of Iraq.
In Britain, Blair will use the “all-party consensus” that came into being after the 7 July bombings to attempt further restrictions on civil liberties. Those restrictions will harass and limit the labour movement and radical protesters more than they will limit terrorists.
In the name of boosting “moderate Islam”, and placating those who can be placated short of an Islamic state in Britain, he will also use it to speed up his programme of expanding religious schools.
If the labour movement does not combat the taunting, brutal, everyday workings of global-market capitalism, and offer an alternative to it, then the system will continue to generate backlash and reaction, whether in the form of the British National Party or that of Islamist-terrorism.
Independent working-class mobilisation and international working-class solidarity are the way to beat the Islamist-terrorists, in Britain, in Iraq and worldwide.
By mishap, a mis-edited version of this editorial is in the printed paper. This is the text we intneded to print.