The seizure of Saddam Hussein last month was heralded as a great victory for Bush and his 'coalition of the willing'. George Bush said in his post-capture speech that 'a dark and painful era is over' for the people of Iraq. Yet the weeks following the arrest have seen no let-up in the death toll.
As Iraqi deaths at the hands of coalition forces have continued, so has the resistance to the occupation.
The prospect of a show trial for Saddam is an irresistible one for Bush in the year of his presidential campaign, but what might Saddam's defence reveal? The reams of evidence of US (and British) support during the most violent period of his rule would have to come out if the trial is to be a fair one.
While the US clearly wants to get out as soon as possible, our own defence secretary Geoff Hoon has admitted that British troops will be in Iraq for at least another year and Jack Straw has put the date nearer to 2007. The end of the occupation is not in sight, and the road to a 'democratic' government is blood-drenched. US neocon Leslie Gelb, a former chair of the US Council on Foreign Relations, has put forward a scheme reminiscent of countless failed 'peace' plans enforced on other conflicts in the past. His 'three state solution' proposes sovereignty over their own statelets for the Kurds in the north, the Shias in the south and the majority Sunnis in the middle (with no control over the oilfields, which would fall outside Sunni borders).
The warmongers want it both ways - while claiming victory over Saddam, they are also raising the stakes in the terror game. Constant reports of high terror alerts and planes cancelled due to 'intelligence' are meant to make us feel insecure, though attempts to impose armed 'air marshals' on transatlantic flights have brought strike threats from pilots. Saddam's capture has left Americans unmoved on the war, with polls showing no change in levels of support (53 percent) or opposition (42 percent) to the invasion of Iraq.
Meanwhile the neoliberal assault on public services continues apace into 2004. Recent reports have shown that the cost to the NHS of buying medication from pharmaceutical companies has risen by almost 50 percent over the last three years, meaning that, just as with the privatised railways, our money is boosting the profits of private enterprise. It has also emerged that NHS consultants working in the private sector are charging fees up to 59 percent higher than anywhere else in the world. This is at a time when the NHS is forced to pay surgeons private rates in order to meet government waiting list targets. Plans to charge non-UK nationals for any medical treatment they receive mark a further ideological attack on the NHS. Health secretary John Reid claims that 'hundreds of millions of pounds' are spent on asylum seekers and other 'foreigners' who are 'effectively stealing treatment from the people of Britain'. Health experts have quickly denounced these smears as completely lacking in evidence.
New Labour has proved itself more successful at implementing Thatcher's policies than the woman herself. But it has also created the greatest democratic deficit in British politics for a generation. The last year has proved that millions are prepared to campaign, take to the streets and engage in real politics in a way they would not have considered before. Our task is to create an electoral alternative that can be a home for these people. Success will mean shifting the parameters of political debate not only in Britain but, through the strength of the anti-war movement, internationally.