Oil and Occupation

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Iraq's colonial governor, former US general Jay Garner, seemed intent on dispelling the belief that Americans don't understand irony. 'I will be candid,' he said, while accusing Iran of stirring up the huge protests against the occupation. 'I do not think the coalition will accept out of region influence.'

There have been demonstrations in every populated part of southern Iraq, as well as Baghdad and many cities to the north, in opposition to the occupation. In Mosul occupying troops shot more than a dozen Iraqis dead for protesting against their new self appointed rulers. Such is the reality of 'liberated' Iraq.

They are angry at the bitter consequences of this invasion. The massive destruction wreaked, the radioactive depleted uranium dropped, the cluster bombs spread in populated areas will all ensure that many will suffer. This carnage was created with the stated aim of disarming Iraq's alleged 'weapons of mass destruction', which Tony Blair told us had 'the ability to inflict real damage upon the region'. Yet this supposedly dire threat, which failed to materialise, is now relegated to a side issue. The most dubious of 'evidence' can be 'found' in an attempt to discredit George Galloway, and by implication the anti-war movement, yet these weapons remain elusive.

The true motivation behind this conflict is shown by the occupation force placing the Ministry of Oil under armed guard while leaving hospitals to be looted. But Bush and Blair would be foolish to celebrate too raucously. Jay Garner's claim that the silent majority of Iraqis really support the US just won't wash any more, leaving the administration with a difficult choice about how to control the country without appearing to do so. They have stirred up a hornet's nest in the Middle East, raising the spectre of a further invasion of Iran or Syria and fueling anti-imperialism throughout the world. And the first flush of success is unlikely to provide more than a temporary palliative domestically. The majority of Americans oppose Bush's tax cuts for the rich alongside huge increases in military spending, and he will be acutely aware that his father was voted out of office after attacking Iraq 12 years ago.

Blair has even greater problems. The Stop the War Coalition's mobilisation of Britain's biggest ever demonstration before the war created the most serious challenge to his leadership so far. It has now emerged that Blair, along with the whole cabinet, were on the brink of being forced out of office and British troops pulled out of the Middle East. Many MPs voted against him for the first time, and have expressed a willingness to do so again on issues such as foundation hospitals. But this reflects a far deeper crisis within the Labour Party, where the chasm between the aspirations of its supporters and the policies of its leadership has rarely been wider. This discontent is manifested in an unwillingness to campaign for Labour, and an increased assertiveness among trade unionists to challenge the rotten 'partnership' with employers which has perpetuated all that was worst about life under the Tories.

As the priorities of a government which spends billions on war while sacking teachers becomes clearer, this anger needs to be harnessed into a genuine alternative to Blair's system of conquest and exploitation. The protests against the G8 at the end of this month are one opportunity to expose the thieves and the enforcers at the heart of capitalism. The networks of activists forged by the anti-war movement can play a vital role in this process. It is crucial that they are nurtured and extended as the crisis for the warmongers deepens.