Those of us who thought it likely that the war in Iraq would lead to vast numbers of civilian casualties have been shown by events to have been mistaken. But there have, indeed, been many civilian casualties, and the full accounting of the deaths and injuries has not yet been made. Vast destruction has been inflicted on Iraq from the air.
However the quick collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime has given the USA and the UK an easy victory. Saddam's kitsch-heroic talk of mass resistance was only bluff and bluster. The fascistic Ba'ath regime stood on rotten foundations. In the recent "elections", Saddam Hussein could get 100% support; but large numbers of Iraqis danced in the streets to celebrate the fall of his regime. It is difficult not to see these scenes as equivalent to those in Italian streets when Mussolini's fascist regime was brought down. If he is not dead, Saddam Hussein is a fugitive, running for his life.
The collapse of the repressive Ba'athist state has led to a great welling up from the depths of Iraqi society of those who have been most ground down. The extraordinary orgy of looting - even of hospitals - was a form of class struggle: anarchic, un-politicised, primitive. That they looted hospitals and museums is one measure of how shut out they have felt from the "civilisation" over which the mass murderer Saddam Hussein presided. It needs to be said clearly that despite all that is negative and bad in Iraq now, the smashing of Saddam's quasi-fascist regime is an immense gain for the working class all over the world.
Does it follow, then, that we were wrong to oppose Bush and Blair? No it does not! It is not at all clear what the Americans and their British satellites will make of their victory. Immediately, they are installing US military rule. Already they have given out contracts with billions of dollars for reconstruction of Iraq to American companies - exclusively to American companies. Some influential Americans talk of military rule for three interim months, others of six months, others of a longer period. George Bush says that the "United Nations" - that is essentially, the other big powers, like France and Germany - are to have an important role in reconstructing Iraq, but not a central role. Here, it is a case of "to the victors, the spoils"; that is, to the Americans.
In the build up to the war, during the war and in the aftermath of war, socialists and consistent democrats had no reason to have political confidence in Bush or Blair, to give them prior credit for being likely to do "the right thing" in post-Saddam Iraq, or, by backing their war on Saddam Hussein, to take political responsibility for them. Our responsibility was, and is to help the Iraqi working class.
And what about the peoples of Iraq?
Segments of the Ba'ath party have ruled Iraq since the coup by "Aref the Butcher" in February 1963 - for 40 years. In those years the Iraqi working class has increased and grown enormously in social weight. Before it was destroyed after 1963, there was a mass Iraqi working class movement, led by the Stalinist Communist Party.
We do not know what has survived of the tradition of working class politics - distorted by Stalinism, but nonetheless sociologically, and in the political aspirations of its rank and file members, working-class. The working class is now - for now - again free to act and to develop politically. That is a tremendous gain. Potentially it contains the answer to Iraq's problems - socialism. But the Iraqi bourgeoisie and middle class has also grown. It has already begun to organise and assert itself in the forming of armed vigilante groups made up of "stake in the country" people against the looters. They are thereby beginning to shape the future of Iraq. Elements of the old state apparatus are being put back in place by the British and Americans. Already the Shi'ite Islamic clergy is organising. The Shia are the majority in Iraq, and where Shia, Sunni and Kurds are a mixed population, the Shia are normally the underdogs - in Baghdad for example, where religious sectarian identity and lower class identity merge. There is also a Sunni segment of the working class. Overcoming Sunni-Shia sectarian division in the working class, and recognising the rights of the Kurds as a distinct nationality, are prerequisites for the working- class movement of Iraq to re-form itself and go forward.
The Shia religious establishment is organised hierarchically and that gives them, as in Iran, where they organised and led the reactionary Islamic revolution in 1979, a ready made political infrastructure. There is a danger of "democracy" in Iraq taking on an Islamic reactionary character - but that will depend on the discussion and debate and on political struggle in the mass of the people. Iraq has a strong secular tradition: the possibility of something progressive replacing Saddam will depend on progressive secularist Iraq successfully asserting itself against both clerical reaction and US occupation.
What the people of Iraq need now is a Constituent Assembly - elected by universal suffrage - in which a constitution for a new Iraq can be hammered out. It is the alternative to US-British rule, and to "consultative meetings" with representatives hand-picked by the US. It is the necessary next step in developing Iraqi democracy.