Offensive Face of the War

Issue section: 

The strength of the anti-war movement has ensured that Iraq has become the defining issue for Tony Blair's second term.

The divisions within the government spring from the massive discontent that has crystallised around the war and occupation.

In response, Blair's arrogant declaration that he will serve another term in government has pre-empted another round of New Labour infighting. Gordon Brown's allies have compared the announcement, made while their man was greasing palms at a meeting of the International Monetary Fund, to an 'African coup'. But the split between the prime minister and chancellor, documented at such great length in the media, is produced by personal ambition, not political principle. Rhetorical nuances aside, Brown happily finances the war, supports the Tory anti-union laws and spearheaded the part-privatisation of the London Underground despite Blair's tactical doubts.

It is debatable who the trade union leaders that have begun to back a Brown leadership challenge are fooling more - themselves or their members. There is certainly a political expediency to irrigating the growing anger among trade unionists into safe, pro-Brown channels. The cost of such tactics was clear at the Labour Party conference, where the mandate of the big unions' membership to withdraw the troops was dropped under pressure from the Brownites.

Meanwhile the decision to escalate the assaults on the Iraqi resistance certainly is political. While Blair would no doubt like the illusion of a credible Iraqi election in January, for Bush the timescale is foreshortened by next month's presidential poll. Touted plans to launch an offensive after November have been brought forward by the ferocious scale of the resistance. Israeli-inspired tactics to deal, salami-style, with resistance-held towns began in Samarra, where 23 dead children were among the 'bad guys and terrorists' denounced by the interior minister. Samarra was notable for the inter-ethnic nature of its resistance movement - a threatening prospect for an occupation force dependent on divide and rule.

But the attacks are also aimed to expose John Kerry. Republicans calculate that he is unlikely to risk being seen as 'weak' on Iraq by opposing the raids, which will make his half-hearted criticisms of the conduct of the war look even more equivocal. Thus millions of Iraqis - who have suffered decades of war and sanctions - are once again used as expendable stakes in an imperial gambit by the rich and powerful.

In the face of this brutality we should nail the lies told to justify the war - the lies Blair refused to take responsibility for in his mealy-mouthed 'apology' at the Labour Party conference. But holding him to account for the past cannot be used as a smokescreen for ignoring the crimes of the present, which is exactly what the Liberal Democrats are doing by backing the continued occupation. Ever since the prospect of invasion was raised, the Lib Dems have opportunistically been attempting to reconcile public hostility to the war with their own critical support.

The onus is therefore on the genuine anti-war majority to get behind the calls of the Iraqi people, and of the families of Paul Bigley, Gordon Gentle, Moazzam Begg and the countless other victims of this colonial folly, to end the occupation now.