Hands off Iran: US/Nato out of the Middle East!

15 January 2020
THE JANUARY 3 drone strike on Baghdad Airport that killed Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, and responsible for Iran’s operations in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, along with nine figures from the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces is a heavy blow for the Islamic Republic.
It is an act of aggression by far the world’s only imperialist superpower, the continuation of decades of economic warfare in the form of blockades, and a provocation which holds the potential to ignite a war that sparks the tinder of the shifting imperialist regional alliances. The antiwar movement in Britain and the world urgently needs to be roused out of its stagnation and complacency and became once again a mass force as it was in the early years of this century.


The assassination of Soleimani was personally ordered by US president Donald Trump, without a shred of international sanction, or consultation of the government of the country in which it took place, or indeed with its Nato allies. Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Sultan were consulted and doubtless consented without qualms. The violation of the territory of a supposed US ally has provoked Iraq to call for the withdrawal of all US troops, a demand taken up on the streets by the masses also calling for an end to Iranian interference in their county.
What lies behind the US President’s fixation with the Iranian regime? A partial motive is doubtless the November elections in the US and the impeachment proceedings. Humbling militarily far weaker states could is one way of ‘making America great again’. But a phobic attitude to Iran has been a trait of all US presidents since Jimmy Carter was humiliated by the US Embassy siege in 1979. In recent years the US and its regional proxies have been forced to accept a series of humiliations, especially in Syria where the bloody dictatorship, backed by Iran and Russia enabled the tottering Assad forces to reestablish control of most of the country; emphasizing Putin’s revived power and prestige.
In Yemen too, the Saudi Crown Prince’s bloody intervention has failed to quell the Iranian-backed Houthis. Israel, the US’s regional gendarme, whose nuclear bomb makes it invulnerable, has long feared Iran’s attempts to acquire a similar deterrent, and has been waging a covert campaign against Iranian military and nuclear targets for years. Trump has more closely aligned the US with the regional military-economic priorities of its Israeli and Saudi allies than any previous administration.
The celebration of Soleimani’s killing in Baghdad by those who have been demonstrating against the corruption of the Iraqi government is understandable, given the commander’s urging of the Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi to repress the demonstrations there with lethal force. Equally understandable will be celebrations by Syrians, who have been victims of Soleimeni’s own forces and his Lebanese Hezbollah allies.
Compensating for the disintegration of the Syrian army during the civil war, the have provided a large part of the boots on the ground that carried out the counterrevolution for Assad whilst Russia did so from the air. Last but not least will be the Iranian left and the activists inside the country who have led mass demonstrations against the corrupt and repressive regime of the mullahs. Understandable but unwise if this fosters illusions in the sympathies of Donald Trump.
The Iranian government’s initial denials that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner, with mainly Iranian and Canadian passengers, reignited mass protests against the regime. Among the slogans chanted by protesters thronging the streets are ‘America is not the enemy – the regime is’. Blaming the incompetence of the latter for the tragedy, and linking this to the huge sums squandered on the reactionary war in Syria, when at home the poor are suffering increasing hardship, is totally justified. But it would be a mistake to harbour any illusions in the democratic credentials of Donald Trump, whose vicious economic blockade of the country is part of a decades-long attempt to undermine the regime’s social base by immiserating the population. Nor should we forget the 1988 downing of Iran Air Flight 655 in Iranian airspace by the USS Vincennes, with the loss of 290 lives. Then there are the Kurds of Rojava, essential US allies in defeating ISIS, but then abandoned to the tender mercies of Erdogan and Assad. This can teach a lesson or two about what kind of ally Trump would prove to Iranian democrats.
The US, and its compliant British ally, have been the principal prop of reaction in the region since WW2, backing each and every dictatorship or counter-revolutionary movement which defended its interests. When the Arab Spring toppled the Egyptian military dictatorship (with scarcely even verbal support from the West) and then when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi  carried out a brutal and bloody counterrevolution, the US and Britain said nothing but carried on with their huge economic and military subsidies. None of the imperialist powers are friends or allies of the workers and youth struggling for democracy in the region, indeed the world.


Trump’s aim is to make America great again. Of course, the US is far and away the greatest of the great powers – economically and militarily. This is shown by the huge array of countries that its banks, its industrial and trading corporations, export capital to and exploit. It is shown by the subservient allies it fosters around the globe. And if one of these dominated and exploited countries (what Lenin called semi-colonies) rebels like Iran or acts against the interests of the US, like Saddam’s Iraq, it can compel even powerful imperialist states like those of the EU to join its blockades and bring it to heel. Finally, if a country is sufficiently important to America’s economic or geostrategic interests, it can invade it, and install its clients backed up by its marines and air forces.
The difference between these semi-colonial states and the handful of imperialist ‘great powers’ lies in the latter’s ability to exploit the world. It does not lie in their political regimes. The oldest imperialist powers in Europe and North America and Japan have accumulated vast capital reserves which permits a stable parliamentary democracy, based on material concessions to a privileged strata of the working class led by reformist parties and trade unions, a means of securing social peace that states constantly plundered of their natural resources and capital in the form of debt payments and profits of the multilaterals can never reproduce.
Iran has been a thorn in the side of US imperialism for forty years, ever since the revolution that overthrew the Shah, a valued asset of the USA and Britain in the exploitation of his country’s oil wealth by their multinationals. This revolution aimed at asserting Iran’s independence from the USA. Tragically, due to the failures of the left, and the radical anti-imperialist demagogy of the Khomeini movement, a dictatorial regime of the Shiite clergy emerged – as a counterrevolution against the forces which made that revolution.
But even under the mullahs Iran pursued a course independent of the USA, and the USA did all it could to hem in and weaken this regime. Thus, for the greater part of all these decades Iran has been the target of massive economic sanctions, recently stepped up again to the status of a virtual blockade. To counteract this, the Iranians have sponsored oppositional forces against the US and its principal allies in the region – Israel, Saudi Arabia the Gulf States and Egypt. These states are dictatorships just as vicious as the Iranian one.
The “exception” Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East” is, in reality, a democracy only for its Jewish citizens. It has remorselessly driven the Palestinians from their homeland and is planning with Trump a single state solution and that state is Israel, with apartheid-like disconnected enclaves. The latter is not a David surrounded by Arab or Muslim Goliaths bent on its destruction but a nuclear-armed state with one of the world’s most advanced armies. It relies on a pledge every US president gives to defend it in all circumstances. It is not antisemitism for Palestinians, indeed all the states of the Middle East attacked or threatened at one time or another by Israel and its transatlantic sponsor, to push back against this wedge driven into the Arab and Muslim world.
Trump came to power promising that “stupid endless wars, for us, are ending.” Later he said “Going into the Middle East is the worst decision ever made in the history of our country!” Yet his pledge to ‘make America great again’ has inevitably meant continuing US imperialism’s policing of the region. Indeed, by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, recognizing illegal settlements on the West Bank, and now by taking out Iran’s key regional strategist, he is laying the basis for a regional war or worse. The greatness he feels is slipping away is the loss of the absolute world hegemony the US briefly enjoyed after the downfall and disintegration of the Soviet Union. The rise of China and the recovery of Russia means we are now in a world of multiple imperialist poles, greater powers and strong rival regional powers, backed by one or another of the big players.

An anti-imperialist anti-war movement

The only alternative to the imperialist camp is the working class camp. In the context of the Middle East today, this means the rise of popular forces in which workers and youth play a major role, fighting for democratic rights, decent living standards, a resurgence of the movement which started with the Arab Spring of 2011, which though it suffered defeats and counterrevolutions, has in the last years or so seen a revival of mass protests in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and now in Iran and Iraq. The slogans they raise are similar; an end to military rule, political corruption, and the elite dividing the spoils between themselves whilst ordinary people go hungry or without jobs.
Socialists in the West need to revive the antiwar movement. It needs to take the stance of opposing the US/Nato wars and crippling economic blockades and defending countries like Iraq and Iran if and when they are attacked by any imperialist great power. At the moment, nine times out of ten, this will be the USA but occasionally, as in Syria, it can be one of its rivals, specifically Putin’s Russia, which is not a force for peace or  part of a “camp of resistance” as some idiots on the left believe. Defence of Iran against US attacks or sanctions does not mean siding with the clerical dictatorship against its own people. A democratic revolution in Iran, especially if the workers of the country lead it, and transform it into a social revolution against the country’s capitalists, will be a massive encouragement for not just a Spring but a Summer of freedom for the region and beyond.
The Labour party and the trade unions, both leaders and mass memberships, need to take the initiative in mobilizing against the US and its allies’ provocations and also to support the genuine resistance movements against all the dictatorships across the Middle East. We can help them by publicising their struggles and preventing our own governments intervening against them and  propping up their oppressors. We can help their exiled militants gain asylum and wage a struggle from relative safety here against the tyrants at home.
We must support the Iraqi resistance and their demand for the withdrawal of all Iranian and US forces from the country. We must help them to overthrow the corrupt tyrants in Teheran, Riyadh, in Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. We must continue to support the Palestinians resist their national annihilation and create a single state for Arabs and Jews with equal rights, from the river to the sea.
In Europe and America we must fight for the closure of the ring of US (and British) military and naval bases in the region. We must oppose Trumps’ vicious sanctions and the supine European governments who enforce them. The same applies to campaigning to get all Russian forces out of Syria.
Therefore our slogans must be:
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