Engraving of Lenin busy studying

Economic & Philosophic Science Review

Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism is to be tested.--- V. I. Lenin

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No 1228 13th April 2004

US plans for a stooge Iraq are shattered by the brutal blitzkrieg massacre of Falluja. America's NAZI-imperialist posturing, 70 years on, is even more out of date than Hitler's was, and even more doomed. The bourgeois desertion, in Iraq and worldwide, from the warmongering cause, reflects the underlying insoluble contradictions, — economic and political , — of America's monopoly imperialist world domination.

Are Western imperialism's rats beginning to desert a sinking ship in Iraq???

And if so, what might be involved other than their personal safety, — and how widespread a phenomenon might such deeper political and systemic implications be???

Decisions may yet be changed, but the Times front-page weekend report of the American warmongering crisis captured the unmistakable Western imperialist gloom and foreboding, as well as giving plenty of detailed reasons why this has come about, and why it is likely to continue, or get even worse:

ONE year after US forces rode triumphantly into Baghdad the US-led coalition was facing a growing revolt last night by the very political leaders to whom it plans to transfer power. A second Iraqi minister resigned yesterday, four members of the US-appointed Governing Council are threatening to go, and the highly-respected elder statesman, Adnan Pachachi, angrily denounced the Americans' "illegal and totally unacceptable" use of force in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah.

US Marines announced a unilateral suspension of their five-day military operation in that city yesterday, but it lasted barely 90 minutes.

The increasingly-emboldened rebels moved to cut off the main highway from Baghdad to sever the Americans' supply route. They attacked a US army fuel convoy heading toward Fallujah, killing nine. They also claimed to have taken four Italians and two Americans hostage, though Italy denied that any of its citizens were missing. The Pentagon announced that six more US soldiers had been killed in action, bringing the total for the week to more than 50.

As Tony Blair began an unannounced holiday in Bermuda yesterday, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, admitted that he never imagined that the situation would be so grave one year after the war's end. "There is no doubt that the current situation is very serious and it is the most serious that we have faced," he told the BBC. He was speaking before news broke of the death of Michael Bloss, a British security contractor, in Iraq.

Fallujah's hospital director said more than 450 Iraqis had been killed, and more than 1,000 wounded, since the Americans began their operation last Sunday to root out those who killed and mutilated four American contractors.

Mr Pachachi, a Sunni member of the Governing Council, said: "We denounce the military operations carried out by the American forces because in effect it is inflicting collective punishment on the residents of Fallujah."

Another Sunni member of the council, Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer, asked: "How can a superpower like the US put itself in a state of war with a small city like Fallujah. This is genocide."

He and three other members of the council are threatening to resign less than three months before the coalition hands over power. Abdel Basit Turki resigned yesterday as Human Rights minister, following Nuri Badran who quit as Interior Minister on Thursday. Russia has joined the condemnation, calling for "an end to military operations, and restraint".

The most intense fighting yesterday centred on the town of Abu Ghraib, on the highway between Baghdad and Fallujah, where gunmen appeared to be gaining control of the US Army's vital supply lines from the capital.

Guerrillas with rocket-propelled grenades destroyed at least three petrol tankers and a military vehicle. Witnesses saw bodies burning inside the vehicles as they blazed on the highway, close to where another fuel convoy was hit the day before.

The explosions could be heard across the capital, which was almost deserted as people stayed home in fear of the escalating fighting which flares almost nightly in districts where guerrillas have their forces.

In Fallujah US Marines announced a unilateral ceasefire to allow aid convoys to enter the city, which has suffered five days of warfare waged with tanks, aircraft and helicopters on the US side and mortars and rocket-propelled grenades from the insurgents. Hundreds of Iraqis and a dozen US troops have been killed in the fighting there.

Marines made little progress into the city yesterday before the lull in fighting. In one gunfight a tank shell hit the minaret of a mosque compound bombed two days earlier after a gunmen opened fire from the tower. In the no-man's land on the edge of an industrial zone, where some of the heaviest fighting has been concentrated, Iraqi bodies lay decaying in the heat, chewed on by wild dogs.

Before dawn, the Marines engaged in psychological warfare, broadcasting earsplitting "death metal" music to wear down the defenders' nerves. Battles continued to flare elsewhere in Iraq as Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shia cleric, issued a chilling message to President Bush.

"I address my enemy Bush. 'You are now fighting an entire nation - from south to north, from east to west, and we advise you to withdraw from Iraq'," he said.

Even as US forces swiftly redeployed troops from the capital to wrest control of the town of Kut from rebel Shia militiamen, fresh fighting erupted in the restive Sunni town of Baqouba to the north, stretching military capacity to the limit.

For the first time, members of the UN appointed Iraqi Governing Council held talks yesterday with insurgents in the besieged Sunni town of Fallujah to try to calm some of the worst fighting that US forces have engaged in since the Vietnam War. A ceasefire announced for the talks quickly cracked as shooting broke out again in the city centre.

Shooting also broke out after a demonstration in the northern city of Mosul, while night clashes in the shrine city of Kerbala, between Shia fighters and Polish and Bulgarian troops, killed 15 Iraqis.

In Baghdad US troops streamed into the fortified compound around the Palestine and Sheraton hotels after reports that supporters of Hojatoleslam al-Sadr planned to storm the hotels and take hostage the foreign journalists and contractors living there.

In neighbouring Iran the influential former-president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, hailed Hojatoleslam al-Sadr — wanted by America for the murder of a rival Ayatollah as "heroic" for rising up with his 10,000-strong al-Mahdi Army against the US-led occupation.

While Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese Prime Minister, vowed to stand firm against kidnappers threatening to burn alive three Japanese hostages if Tokyo does not quit the coalition, the spate of violence sent shivers through the multinational force. Thailand ordered its troops to remain in their base in Karbala until the fighting died down, and threatened to leave the country if it deteriorated.

The IGC members are prize imperialist stooges, the latest in a centuries-long line of worldwide local sellout treachery which has enabled the West's monopoly-capitalist might and knowhow to continuously bribe or bully a way to perpetual global domination.

As the most vulnerable individuals within this never-ending (so far) — historical opportunist racket, such fraudulent representations of "independent Iraqi government" would naturally be more nervous and on their guard in troubled times for the imperialist system.

Iraqis who have joined the new police, military, or civil service in the pay of the American recolonisation project have inevitably become prime targets for ongoing anti-imperialist resistance.

But it is already worth asking: Is there more to it than that??? The news seems to have the making of a huge defection, — potentially disrupting or even totally sabotaging the American takeover.

The US superpower could obviously quickly recruit a new set of stooges to form an IGC, replacing the present wilting members.

But that would precisely only get back to the heart of the problem: Is historical credibility starting to drain completely from this whole colonial and neocolonial global system????

Are these flaking IGC members just guarding their backs, or does such a stirring turning by such worms unconsciously reflect a huge historical transformation throughout the Third World???

The Review's perspectives could not be clearer (see EPSR box).

The imperialist system is collapsing into its greatest-ever economic crisis of warmongering tyranny and cutthroat trade-war, degenerating into global slump from yet another worldwide "overproduction" nightmare and ferocious inter-imperialist conflict.

But it comes as the third great breakdown-catastrophe within a century; and the previous two episodes (World Wars I and II) resulted in colossal revolutionary upheaval, each time, outside of the most advanced industrial imperialist powers.

The semi-Asiatic Tsarist empire gave revolutionary birth to the mighty Soviet workers-state-history at the end of WWI plus a huge international communist movement. And this won workers state power in a row of new countries following WWII, most notably and influentially in China; and this in turn sparked off and protected the epoch-making colonial freedom movement which forcibly drove the Western imperialists out of their fixed physical empires.

The unprecedented post-1945 imperialist world trade boom has enabled the West to retain neo-colonial economic control and influence over the Third World and also to eventually undermine the Socialist Camp of workers states, finally totally confused and corrupted by Stalinist and Beijing Revisionism which idiotically declared "peace" with imperialist warmongering expansionism as a "dying and spent force".

But it is that history-reversing boom which is precisely now at the root of all the imperialist system's troubles.

The never-ending artificial creation of credit under the Bretton Woods system, which declared the dollar "as good as gold", has finally inevitably led to an "overproduction" of capital (mostly in vast unrepayable American government IOUs) so gigantic that it is effectively beyond human understanding.

The crude figures in dollar credits held by the rest of the world can be stated in thousands and millions of billions of the US currency, but no imagination can truly grasp such sums,or the impact they will have when the dollar is finally declared "no longer good for anything".

But prior to that new Great Crash (dwarfing the last one in 1929 on Wall Street), the world seems able to begin politically sensing that all is far from well with this US imperialist world-domination system.

The "by far the richest and most powerful Empire in all world history" is behaving strangely paralysed, sick, and nervous,on so many issues.

It has never really recovered from Vietnam and Korea where, first, it was held to a painful, humiliating, and bloody draw by the Chinese and Korean communists; and then it was totally defeated by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese workers state, and forced to withdraw in utter shame and serious domestic confusion and upheaval inside the USA.

Moscow's wretched Revisionist capitulation to the Cold War's trade embargoes, armsrace strain, counter-revolutionary sabotage, and incessant propaganda subversion, gave big ideas to the tiny minds of American imperialist circles, but the "world ruler" fumbling and stumbling has never stopped.

Despite this, the Bush regime has been forced by incurable and escalating economic crisis to once again gamble for very big warmongering stakes in this monstrous new Middle East blitzkrieg-armageddon.

But it is beginning to look like total disaster.

There is nothing like a military defeat yet in view for the American forces, nor is there yet even a general rising against their occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the anti-imperialist struggle can smell blood, both literally and figuratively.

Basically, it is Western domination itself which is becoming hated; — and plainly sensing this, and aware of the post-1945 historical effect which has made "Western imperialist tyranny" a dirty word, the American recolonising occupation is showing signs of not knowing what it is doing, leading to grotesque mistakes, monstrous corruption, and paralysing dithers

And despite all the Rev Blair's vicious, racist-nationalist flag-waving against the "infidel enemy", the morale of the "anti-Saddam" blitzkrieg is fading fast.

The sheer brutal firepower and fascist mentality of the mercenary troops will still be able to inflict huge losses and suffering on the Iraqi nation, but the war for hearts and minds is already hopelessly lost.

This is potentially a huge historical issue, and it might turn out to be impossible to exaggerate its importance.

The Zionist and American military blitzkriegs on Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan can still continue to devastate and mutilate, terrorising the whole Middle East into continued resentful submission for the moment.

But a major turning point will have been reached if what the Intifada in Palestine and the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan are demonstrating is that however beaten and bloodied, the Middle East will no longer "accept" Western domination, in the sense of peacefully coexisting with it, however reluctantly. Sufficient resistance has been raging on in Palestine, and now in Afghanistan and Iraq, to make it look as though there will now NEVER be any end to this Third World war of liberation until it successfully DEFEATS Western imperialism.

Remarkable admissions by a Zionist writer in the Guardian provide the most surprising evidence of this perspective:

Every morning in Tel Aviv, I walked down the street, bought my copy of Ha'aretz.

It was an excruciating experience. In story after story Israel emerged as a society in which every institution of the state was in a dire condition, at best incompetent, at worst corrupt, only a few tattered scraps left of the early high ideals of Zionism. Members of the Knesset, ministers, party leaders, prime ministers and generals were routinely exposed as liars and crooks; the army were lying, the police were lying, the government was lying.

Soldiers spoke to me of a "mental scratch" — a psychological scar as a result of serving in the army of occupation. A woman who did her army service during the first intifada told me how she was inducted with boys from high school, and saw them cross what Israelis call a "red line" — holding a gun to the head of a terrified child, humiliating a Palestinian teacher at a checkpoint, killing an unarmed civilian. "When they came home the red line stayed crossed, they began to treat their girlfriends and wives that way, then their own children," she said. "And these were people I thought I knew, people I'd grown up with."

At the same time a tent city of homeless people, nicknamed Bread Square, appeared at the Kikar HaMedina, Tel Aviv's most exclusive shopping district. A report published at the end of last year revealed that 20% of Israeli children are living below the poverty line. Army social workers are increasingly dealing with soldiers who have nowhere to go on weekend leave because their parents are homeless.

As I sat in the café reading, I wondered how the others there, drinking espresso and eating pastries, could bear to live with this terrifying collapse of the promise of Zionism, and I would try to listen in on their conversations. A few words would emerge and I turned to the back page of the paper to find out what they were talking about. "Eyal Berkovic...Kevin Keegan...Manchester City...Portsmouth".

At first I didn't get it. How could people be so immune to the horror that was all around them? But it gradually sank in that what Hamas and Islamic Jihad have achieved with their bombs is a depoliticisation of Israeli society. I learned the four most important words in the Hebrew vocabulary: pigua (suicide bomb), haznatzov (the "situation"), balagan (a big mess), and bu'ah (the bubble you live in to protect you from the random violence of the piguim).

Suicide bombings create small, self-enclosed worlds consisting of family, a few friends, and a tiny geography. You go to this supermarket which is not in a busy mall, this café which has an armed guard, drive your kids to school along this side road which isn't a bus route — and to hell with anyone you don't know or trust. This is your own personal bu'ah, your bubble, and no one who is not in it is above suspicion. What is happening in Gaza or Nablus — the curfews the checkpoints, the terrifying incursions of troops, the targeted assassinations, the collapse of the social infrastructure, the malnutrition, the cages in which Palestinians are fenced off like zoo animals — could be happening in Bosnia instead of a 25-minute drive away, because no one goes there except your son the soldier or your husband the reservist, and he doesn't talk about what he's seen because he can't. He doesn't have the emotional language to express it, who among us does? He comes home and gratefully re-enters his bu'ah. If I were an Israeli businessman, I'd invest in escapism, the bu'ah's wallpaper: foreign travel, home décor, kitchen equipment, the National Geographic channel on TV for the rich; soap operas and Spanish "telenovelas" — for the poor.

It is as if the government is simply a caretaker, changing the light bulbs, vacuuming the floors. It no longer has any meaningful connection to the mass of the population. "How did you vote in the last election?" I asked. "I didn't." Or, "I voted last time but I won't again. Who is there to vote for?"

Suicide bombings built the fence. It exists as a metaphor in the minds of Israelis, a kind of prophylactic against the HIV of terrorism. Only a few political activists I met, and some soldiers, had even laid eyes on it. The fence that was built — seen, rightly, by the Palestinians as a de facto annexation of Palestinian land to create wretched reservations with no work, no schools, no water and no rights — is not the fence that Israelis know about. And even if they did, they no longer care what damage is inflicted on their enemy. The murder of Israeli civilians is not contextualised by them as resistance by the desperate against an occupying power bristling with an advanced military arsenal and backed with a blank cheque from the world's most powerful nation.

But the holocaust ended nearly 60 years ago, and how long can a nation live on the memory of past victimisation when it is itself now the victimiser? [In the past decade more than a million people have arrived in Israel who have had direct experience of persecution and state sponsored anti-semitism: the Ethiopians who underwent harrowing death marches across the Sudan, suffering rape and murder in refugee camps, and the Russians who were second-class citizens in the Soviet Union with restricted rights to jobs and education. It is very difficult to maintain two world views inside your head simultaneously: that your family survived 70 years of Soviet murder, that your father, a party gynaecologist, barely got through the Doctor's Plot, that you didn't get a job, or were turned down for a university place because you were a Jew — and at the same time that you are also the agent of a western colonial adventure to subjugate and conquer Arab lands. Some people can do it, but not many.]

In Britain we are still debating if there is a genuine increase in anti-semitism, or if it is just a propaganda device to silence criticism of Israel. In Israel there is no such debate, because the press far more comprehensively reports anti-semitic incidents than the European media, and the steady stream of new immigrants arriving from France tells its own story. To Israelis the world seems no safer now than it did when the state was born. Academic boycotts, threats of sanctions, UN resolutions — all reinforce their sense of Jews as a people outside the community of nations, the eternal scapegoat. Such measures do not move the population to the left, but to the right: to fear, anxiety and paranoia, to what I thought of as political hypochondria ("I have a pain in my foot, it must be cancer." Arafat said this, "the Arabs are going to drive us into the sea."). It is just rhetoric, I would say, rhetoric which is all you have if you are powerless. But the Israelis have a motto: "If someone says he is going to kill you, never give him the benefit of the doubt." And it is the parties of the right — and above all Ariel Sharon, who understand Jewish anxiety, and feeds and fattens and flatters it — who say, "We know[...]

None the less, behind closed doors, away from what they see as a hostile and biased European media, some Israelis are prepared to express their deepest feelings about what their country has become. Many Israeli officials — not politicians, but state employees who represent their government at home and abroad — hacked open their chests and showed me their beating hearts. They were appalled by their government and its policies, by their politicians' lack of accountability, by being asked to lie in the service of the state. Civil servants urged me to publicise the Geneva accords, the reservists' protests, to keep the Israeli left alive in the eyes of the Europeans.

Grassroots protests, particularly by pilots and paratroopers some of the most elite and patriotic sectors of society, have led to an important debate about what exactly the Israeli Defence Force is defending in Gaza and the West Bank. Young conscripts and reservists understand that it is impossible to wage a war against an enemy embedded in a civilian population without committing crimes against humanity, including your own. Shlomo Lahat, the former Likud mayor of Tel Aviv, wrote a groundbreaking article in Haaretz in January in which he said that the checkpoints had no function except to harass the civilian population. The targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin provoked criticism from mainstream tabloid newspapers such as the rightwing Maariv.

Yet despite these signs of optimism, which you must cherish as if they were your children, I left Israel more profoundly troubled than when I arrived, for a thought had occurred to me which was unbearable: that at its heart, indeed because of what is in the hearts of its people, not just its leaders, this conflict could be insoluble.

How it works, Rubinstein told me, is that the Israeli right uses the Palestinian right-of-return as a bogeyman to frighten people into believing that there are no moderate Palestinians. In fact there are plenty who recognise that if there is to be an end to the occupation, it has to depend on the recognition by Palestine of Israel as Jewish state, he said. And this must mean that the right of return will be settled by financial compensation, and a recognition of the role Israel played in making them refugees, not a return to the actual homes in Jerusalem and Jaffa from which they were driven in 1948. What will happen if they won't surrender the right of return? I asked. He shook his head. "Then it's hopeless."

But there exists in Israel a far left that agrees with those on the right that the centre left, people like Rubinstein, are indeed deluded, that they have failed to comprehend that the bedrock of the Palestinians' claim — the one that is enshrined in international law and which no politician can sign away on their behalf — is the right of return not just to their houses but to their land their country. Once Israelis accept it, then the two-state solution becomes an interim stage on the way to the true destiny of the two peoples: a single state solution, one person, one vote, an end to ethnic dominance. I put this to Hillel Schenker, co-managing editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, the only publication jointly edited and run by both Palestinians and Israelis.

"These views resonate abroad, particularly among radical Palestinians opposed to the PA [Palestinian Authority] and anti-Zionist leftists," he said, "but there is absolutely no meaningful constituency in Israel that will respond to an international struggle for a single state.

I also know what some Palestinian friends tell me, that the right of return is deeply embedded in the Palestinian soul and can never be given up, that no leader can sign an agreement on their behalf which would settle it with a cheque instead. What I know about Jewish Israelis, they know about Palestinians; if they are right, then we might have to face the nightmare that the war between the two peoples cannot be concluded, there is no deal that can ever be signed that will not give way almost at once, to the resumption of the struggle. No US administration, however evenhanded, can settle the dispute, or even impose a settlement, over land that can neither be shared nor divided.

I left Israel burdened by a sense of horror. A 10-month-old Israeli baby, Netta, sat in her mother's arms on the other side of the aeroplane aisle, smiling and gurgling and oblivious to the heavy storm winds we were passing through as we attempted to land in London. I looked at her and, imagining her future, wondered if it would turn out that there were no solutions, only consequences, all of them tragedies. The most important word in Hebrew is balagan: Oy, a balagan! What a mess.

Superficially, this may still look like an impossibly tall order.

But easily the hardest part, — 99% of the difficulty, — may already have been overcome, — — the great historical shift of the Third World masses, finally evolving and maturing to a point where they CAN NO LONGER live any more under the grotesque inequalities and arbitrary murderous military tyranny of Western imperialist domination, (see EPSR Box).

And while it still remains to be seen if this is what is really happening in the Middle East, the other crucial half of the key to history which materialist philosophy puts forward, — namely, the inability of the world's rulers to RULE ON ANY LONGER in the old way either, — also looks interestingly poised.

For as well as imperialism's leadership looking shifty and lacking confidence, the so-called "opposition" voices in the West are sounding almost as confused, irresolute, and fearful.

This could be the classic indication of THE WHOLE BOURGEOIS CLASS feeling threatened by history.

Which would be right. If this wholesale economic-slump catastrophe worldwide turns out to be what the struggle for Marxist understanding may be pointing to as imminent, — then the entire basis for the bourgeoisie's whole existence as a class (ruling the Earth for 700 years) would indeed be facing termination.

No wonder Blair is so dementedly hammering away at his racist scare-stories about "Islamic extremism threatening all our lives" and other such insane inflammatory provocations.

Blair knows that such sick warmongering propaganda will ruin him politically if no mighty conflict takes place along these lines but the Western way of life is wrecked anyway. Yet he also knows that the "overproduction"-crisis economic realities, clearly condemning continued US-UK bossing of the planet WITHOUT successful war, will destroy the "British-way-of-life" anyway.

So the whole bourgeois game is in jeopardy, which is why the "opposition" parties in the joke "Parliament" basically support continued Western imperialist military tyranny all round the world, — jibbing for pointscoring reasons only at HOW this patronising domineering over the rest of the planet should take place, — NOT at the imperialist-system control itself.

And the same even applies to the supposed "alternative" to the mealy-mouthed formal "opposition" bourgeois parties, supplied by the petty-bourgeois fake-"left".

Such monstrous frauds as the Sparts are STILL arguing for the Arab nationalists to be DEFEATED in their resistance to the West's Zionist-imperialist colonisation of Palestine in the post-1945 conspiracy (to make a "homeland" for Jewish monopoly finance capital in the Middle East, both to buy the Jews' silence for the Holocaust treachery inflicted by the 1930s Western imperialist warmongering conspiracy, and to establish a permanent mailed-fist scourge of Arab nationalism throughout the Middle East by building up the Zionist colony as the fourth mightiest military power on Earth now).

Like all the fake-'left' stooges of Western imperialism, the Sparts use a stupid, superficial, fake-'Marxist' argument to justify their cowardly capitulation to Western nazi-blitzkrieg reality.

This declares that "the Hebrew nation, though not necessarily the Zionist state, clearly cannot be denied a right to exist" in the Middle East, but Arab nationalist extremist voices only talk about "eliminating" the Jewish presence from Palestine.

Hence the Sparts effectively throw their weight behind Western imperialism in backing the Zionist colonial genocide.

And sticking with imperialism, is, of course, their real position.

The "Hebrew nation" so-called only exists in Palestine BECAUSE OF the Zionist-imperialist colonial tyranny called "Israel" having been set up in the first place by the West's monopoly-capitalist world domination post-1945.

If that imperialist premise is challenged CONSISTENTLY, — as history is now doing, then this vicious genocidal Jewish colonisation clearly emerges as the TOTAL CONTRADICTION to the whole modern flow of history that it has in fact become, sticking in the throat of all human progress by being the last-ditch rallying point for American public opinion (and much international capitalist opinion) to continue backing the US imperialist warmongering holocaust on the whole middle East.

And the fake-'left' effortlessly expands this solidarity with Western imperialism by the branding of Arab and Muslim nationalist revolt as "terrorism" too, joining in the worldwide pro-American bourgeois claque which grovels to Washington's diktat 'that "everyone must be either with us or against us in our condemnation of terrorism".

As for the West's insane "war on terrorism", this ridiculous propaganda conspiracy (to portray the legitimacy of Third World anti-imperialists to struggle against Western tyranny (in any way they can or see fit) as some kind of "inhuman" monstrousness which the whole world "must condemn", etc, etc), — is rapidly falling apart.

This heroic anti-imperialist fight in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, frequently involving suicide bombings, hostage killing, and other acts of "inhuman extremism", etc, is bound to spread worldwide eventually; and at some stage, BILLIONS of people will be proudly identifying with these pioneer struggles and declaring: "I am a terrorist too".

Already, the scale of the revolt in all three against imperialist-recolonisation has grown so big that sympathies are now shifting fast.

"Terrorist" or not, the Western monopoly bourgeois cold-blooded threat to "enforce order" no matter how widespread or popular the risings become, can only start to smack of one thing: "The more they revolt, the more of them we're going to have to kill"; and already, such Nazi-terror identification is being associated with American and Zionist ruthless tactics in all three wars.

In the international propaganda battle, the tables are beginning to turn against Western imperialism, not against the "terrorist" smearing of the anti-imperialist struggle.

Even thoroughly respectable rightwing bourgeois opinion has started to share these doubts, — such as this in the Times:

Today, support for anti-Western fanaticism has never been greater, extending even to the playgrounds of suburban Britain. This reversal has been a fiasco of Western diplomacy. For political incompetence it surpasses anything in my lifetime.

The cause was Washington and London ignoring Hannah Arendt's maxim that nations which resort too readily to violence end up by losing power. Violence breeds violence. The doctrine of punitive aggression and pre-emptive war espoused by George Bush and Tony Blair pandered to democracy's basest instinct, the violence instinct. Coupled with military overkill — "shock and awe" — it ensured that the West would fail the Clausewitz test.

The Taleban and the warlords are now returning to Afghanistan. America and Britain are being driven from the streets of Iraq by revenge violence which they cannot contain. If Downing Street is to be believed, the threat to Europe from militant Islam is now greater than ever since the 11th century, with Mr Blair as El Cid.

One day historians will pore over these strange months. Records will be revealed and leaders interviewed. I believe they will show that it was not al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack that caused such deep conflict between the West and the Islamic world. The attack merely relit a fuse which had failed on the same spot in 1993. The explosion resulted from the response of American and British leaders. They took electoral comfort in a reckless violence. They laid the trail of gunpowder which ignited wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and which now has an alarming number of young Muslims applauding the killers of Baghdad and Fallujah.

It is rather an easy response to a crisis by those with power. The American and British attack on Iraq, unjustified by law or self-defence, was rather a crude assertion of global power. It was unrelated to terrorism and has done nothing to stem it. Its continued slaughter only worsens international bitterness.

The other rejoinder is the Oscar winning film, The Fog of War.

It is an engrossing memoir by the former American Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara. He confesses that the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo would have been a war crime had America not won. In Vietnam he made mistake after mistake, often through ignorance, usually through refusing to admit that he was wrong. Elsewhere he has said the same of the invasion of Iraq, "morally wrong, politically wrong, economically wrong". He pleads only for today to heed the mistakes of yesterday, which it rarely does.

McNamara's lessons, illustrated with vivid archive footage, require us to see foreigners as human, read their minds and histories and anticipate their responses to what we do to them.

This neopacifism is not moral but ruthlessly practical. Unleash the 82nd Airborne on the Sunni Triangle and you may get good television but you will not win. You will lose. Use disproportionate force and your victims may  cower and even "surrender". They are unlikely to award you the victory of submission. If you bomb Muslim cities and kill their citizens, Muslim fanatics anywhere may take it upon themselves to bomb your cities and kill your citizens. Sensible Muslims may deplore this, but enough will sympathise to give the fanatics sea in which to swim.

Where I agree with Schell and McNamara is in remembering that it is peace we are supposed to be buying. It is not fear or hegemony or "showing Arabs who is boss". Mr Bush's pre-invasion scrapping of Colin Powell's plan for Iraqi reconstruction and opting for Donald Rumsfeld's brutalism turned the chance of Clausewitzian victory into the certainty of defeat. Mr Blair's compliance in this grotesque mistake was shocking. Nemesis may yet come to the streets of London.

With its crusades against Afghanistan and Iraq, Britain is party to a predictable return to anarchy in both countries. Muslims everywhere thus feel themselves targets of the West's "exemplary violence". They naturally seek comfort in group defensiveness. Britain treated the Catholics likewise in 19th-century Ireland and is still paying the price. We learn nothing from our past.

This neo-pacifism is not a limp turning away from conflict. It means leaving alone countries where we do not belong, which do not threaten us and where our soldiers breed humiliation and violence. It means facing down the rantings of the security lobby and warmongers. It means denying terrorists the oxygen of publicity and the stimulus of overreaction.

Such scepticism towards violence pays no debt to traditional pacifism but that of common sense.

How much more justified (and stronger) respectable Iraqi bourgeois opinion is, does not even have to be guessed at.

So confused, fearful, and divided is the West about this rebirth of Nazi blitzkrieg warmongering that dissenting Iraqi bourgeois voices are getting a widespread hearing in the more politically reflective Western circles, such as this in the pro-war Guardian:

Iraqis would like to begin our journey towards a much-needed stability and democracy. But at the moment our "companions" are the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and their appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). We have not chosen them.

The governing council is as responsible as the US-led occupation forces for Iraq's rapid slide into chaos and bloodshed. They stood aside last Sunday when the Sadr City demonstration against the closure of a newspaper was machine-gunned from helicopters — 32 people were killed and hundreds injured. They stood aside when rockets were fired into the Shulla neighbourhood further north in Baghdad, with more casualties. They have been watching in silence while Iraqis have been killed in Basra, Nassiriya. Kirkuk, Amara, Baquba, Kut, Kerbala and Najaf.

It was left to journalists and organisations like Amnesty International and Occupation Watch to document and condemn hundreds of occupation excesses and outright atrocities, starting from the shooting of 17 civilians at a demonstration in Falluja in April last year.

While the IGC denounced the savage mutilation last week of four American mercenaries in Falluja, they failed to issue an equal condemnation of the US marines' besieging of the town, sending tank columns into neighbourhoods, guns blazing, and attacking a mosque with F-16 planes, killing 40 people.

The CPA and IGC's early promises were colourful: they would build a new democratic Iraq, they said, guaranteeing human rights and freedom. But a year on, the picture they painted is fading.

Car bombs, shootings and kidnapping have become part of daily life. Only 50% of the population have fresh water, compared with 60% before "liberation". Electricity is intermittent. Drugs are sold openly in the streets. Ten thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the conflict.

But it is not for the security crisis alone that the majority of Iraqis hold IGC members in utter disdain. Corruption is widespread. To get a job, one needs a tazkia (letter of recommendation) from one of the IGC parties. Allocation of subcontracts only follows a payment of 5%-10% of the value of the contract to the American contractors. Nepotism starts at the very top (eight ministers are close relatives of the IGC members).

Although most of the IGC members were once victims of Saddam's regime, they now turn a blind eye to the violations of human rights by occupation troops. One of the first things the CPA did was to issue a memorandum to remove the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts over any coalition personnel in both civil and criminal matters. According to a recent Amnesty International report: "Coalition forces appear in many cases to be using the climate of violence to justify violating the very human rights standards they are supposed to be upholding. They have shot Iraqis dead during demos, tortured and ill-treated prisoners, arrested people arbitrarily and held them indefinitely, demolished houses in acts of revenge and collective punishment."

The CPA also ignores the violent activities of the four militias in Iraq, which have taken the law into their own hands: the peshmergas of the two Kurdish parties; the Badr brigade of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq; Ahmed Chalabi's troops; and the ex-Ba'athist Mukhabarats under Iyad Alawi's national accord. These militias are run by members of the IGC and no one can touch them. No high-ranking official of Saddam's regime has yet been prosecuted either, despite the wish of most Iraqis that they be bought to justice.

For all the talk of democracy, opposition in any form to the IGC and the occupation is not acceptable. I saw women queuing for hours at the gates of Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad begging for news of their loved ones, many of whom are political prisoners. It brought back bad memories. In the 1970s, under the Ba'ath regime, my mother had to wait in the same place desperate to hear if I was held inside.

In Baghdad, on January 12th met Abdullatif Ali al-Mayah, professor of politics and director of Baghdad's Centre for Human Rights. He was concerned about women's and young people's rights. A believer in human dignity and justice, he spoke with anger about the plight of Iraqi people under occupation. We arranged to work together. On January 18, on al-Jazeera television, he denounced IGC corruption and demanded elections as soon as possible. Twelve hours later, he was killed. Al-Mayah, a former prisoner of Saddam's regime, was no Saddamist or Bin Ladenist. The CPA and IGC met his murder with silence — as they did the murder of at least 17 other Iraqi academics. With this silence, the oppressed becomes oppressor.

The IGC has allied itself with the occupation administration. Its role is to shield occupation forces, not its own people. The gulf between it and the majority of Iraqis has widened. Away from the vulnerable majority, they stand well protected by bodyguards driving special cars and carrying free mobile phones courtesy of the US.

The interim constitution was written behind closed doors. Iraqis were not consulted, but Paul Bremer and Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador, were. As the countdown to the supposed end of the occupation begins, Bremer has already announced measures and laws that will in effect thwart a new government from overturning his decisions of the past year.

The CPA is in favour of rapid privatisation. At the end of April, 15 ministers will be in London to attend an event described in its colourful brochure as: "An excellent opportunity to do business in Iraq without having to consider the current security risks of visiting the country." Shell, Chevron Texaco, Exxon and Mobil are sponsoring the event, among others.

Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi born novelist and artist. She is a former political prisoner of the Ba'ath regime

And yet it is upon such layers of Iraqi society that Western imperialism has largely been counting, for support for the recolonising occupation, and for solidarity against the "terrorists".

Some unimpeachable Iraqi middle-class voices have even started forming very aggressive anti-imperialist opinions, likening the USA and the Zionists to the worst kinds of reactionary repression that imperialist history has ever thrown up, — and are having these views reported in the Western capitalist press too:

The 160,000 occupation forces, backed up by mass destruction technology, are now deemed insufficient in the fight against the Sunni diehards and the Shia unrepresentative extremists. Furthermore, many thousands of foreign fighters have indeed come "flooding" into Iraq — not terrorists sent by Bin Laden but mercenaries hired by the occupation authorities. Their role is to carry out dangerous tasks, to help reduce US army casualties. This is in addition to the Pentagon's Israeli-trained special assassination squads. Iraqis now believe that some of the recent assassinations of scientists and academics were perpetrated by these hit-squads. A similar campaign of assassinations in Vietnam claimed the lives of 41,000 people between 1968 and 1971.

The unleashing of F16 fighter bombers, Apache helicopter gunships and "precisely" targeted bombs and tank fire on heavily populated areas is making the streets of Baghdad, Falluja and the southern cities resemble those of occupied Palestine. Sharon-style tactics and brutality are now the favoured methods of the US-led occupation forces — including the torture of prisoners, who now number well over 10,000.

There is little doubt that the resistance will spread to new areas of Baghdad and the south, with the intense anti-occupation feelings of the people turning into more militant forms of protest. The US-led invasion is daily being unmasked for what it is: a colonialist adventure being met by a resistance that will eventually turn into a an unstoppable war of liberation.

What went so wrong that the US-led war to "liberate" the Iraqi people turned into the daily slaughter of the victims of Saddam's tyranny? The answer is simple: nothing has gone wrong. Despite the mythology, most Iraqis were strongly against the invasion from the start, though it has taken 12 months for the world's media to report that.

What has changed is that many Iraqis have decided that the peaceful road to evict the occupiers is not leading anywhere. They didn't need Sadr to tell them this. They were told it loudly and brutally a few days ago by a US Abraham tank, one of many facing unarmed and peaceful demonstrators not far from the infamous Saddam statue that was toppled a year ago. The tank crushed to death two peaceful demonstrators protesting against the closure of a Sadr newspaper by Paul Bremer, the self-declared champion of free speech in Iraq. The tragic irony wasn't lost on Iraqis.

Nor did they fail to notice article 59 of the new US-engineered constitution, which puts the new US-founded Iraqi armed forces under the command of the occupation forces, which will, in turn, be "invited" to stay in Iraq by the new sovereign government after the "handover of power" in June. This occupation force will be backed up by 14 large US military bases and the biggest US embassy in the world, tellingly based at Saddam's republican palace in Baghdad.

And lest anyone is still confused by the glib propaganda that it is all the fault of Sadr, it is important to remember the greatest mass demonstration in Iraq's history, only days after the fall of Baghdad, when 4 million people converged on Karbala to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Their rallying cries then were "No to America, no to Saddam" and "No to the occupation" — a chant that has been repeated at many mass rallies since. Opposing Saddam's tyranny was never the same thing as welcoming invasion and the tyranny of occupation.

It is ironic that, had Sadr's political and social programme (towards the Kurdish people and women, for example), as distinct from his very popular anti-occupation stance, been more enlightened, he would have been much more popular. Indeed, he would probably have seen his Mahdi army grow to millions before Bremer's resignation on June 30.

Sami Ramadani was a political refugee from Saddam's regime and is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University

On top of this, anti-war journalists in the West have started to take their vengeance on the pro-war rightwing newspaper claque which so triumphantly rubbished the "doubters" only months ago by sneering at the "gutless fools who predicted a quagmire for the American superpower. How wrong they were", etc, etc:

William Shawcross and Blairite MP Ann Clwyd, have been reduced to a state of stuttering incoherence by the scale of bloodshed and suffering they have helped unleash. Clwyd, who regularly visits Iraq as the prime minister's "human rights envoy"; struggled to acknowledge in an interview on Monday that bombing raids by US F16s and Apache helicopter gunships on Iraqi cities risked causing civilian deaths, not merely injuries. The following day, 16 children were reportedly killed in Falluja when US warplanes rocketed their homes. And yesterday; in what may well be the most inflammatory act of slaughter yet, a US helicopter killed dozens of Iraqis in a missile assault on a Falluja mosque.

The attack on a mosque during afternoon prayers will, without doubt, swell the ranks of what has become a nationwide uprising against the US-led occupation. By launching a crackdown against the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr — and, in an eloquent display of what it means by freedom in occupied Iraq, closing his newspaper — the US has finally triggered the long-predicted revolt across the Shia south and ended the isolation of the resistance in the so-called Sunni triangle.

Bush, Blair and Bremer have lit a fire in Iraq which may yet consume them all. The evidence of the past few days is that the uprising has spread far beyond the ranks of Sadr's militia. And far from unleashing the civil war US and British pundits and politicians have warned about, Sunni and Shia guerrillas have been fighting side by side in Baghdad against the occupation forces.

This revolt shows every sign of turning into Iraq's own intifada, and towns like Falluja and Ramadi — centres of resistance from the first days of occupation — are now getting the treatment Israel has meted out to Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus and Rafah over the past couple of years. As resistance groups have moved from simply attacking US and other occupation troops to attempts to hold territory, US efforts to destroy them — as an American general vowed to do yesterday have become increasingly brutal. Across Iraq, US soldiers and their European allies are now killing Iraqis in their hundreds on the streets of their own cities in an explosive revival of the Middle East's imperial legacy.

For Britain, Iraq has turned into its first full-scale colonial war since it was forced out of Aden in the late 1960s. And the pledge by US commanders to "pacify" the mushrooming centres of Iraqi insurrection echoes not only the doomed US efforts to break the Vietnamese in the 60s and 70s, but also the delusionary euphemisms of Britain's own blood-soaked campaigns in Kenya and Malaya a decade earlier. The same kind of terminology is used to damn those fighting foreign rule in Iraq. Thus President Bush's spokesman described Shia guerrillas as "thugs and terrorists"; while his Iraqi pro-consul Paul Bremer — head of a 130,000-strong occupation force which has already killed more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians — issued a priceless denunciation of groups who "think power in Iraq should come out of the barrel of a gun... that is intolerable".

The bulk of the media and political class in Britain has followed this lead in an apparent attempt to normalise the occupation of Iraq in the eyes of the public. The fact that British squaddies shot dead 15 Iraqis in Amara on Tuesday has had little more coverage than the shameful beating to death of Iraqi prisoners in British custody. Both the BBC and ITN routinely refer to British troops as "peacekeepers"; private mercenaries are called "civilian contractors"; the rebranding of the occupation planned for June is described as the "handover of power to the Iraqis"; the Sadr group always represents a "small minority" of Shia opinion; and a patently unscientific and contradictory poll carried out in Iraq last month — in which most people said they were opposed to the presence of coalition forces in Iraq — is absurdly used to claim majority support for the occupation.

The growing panic in Washington over what Senator Edward Kennedy calls "Bush's Vietnam" is now focused on the date for the formal — and entirely cosmetic — transfer of sovereignty to a hand-picked Iraqi puppet administration, currently timetabled for June 30. The original idea of an early date was to give the appearance of progress in Iraq before the US presidential elections. But there was also an anxiety that pressure for an elected transitional government would become unstoppable if the transfer took place any later — and like all occupying powers, the US fears genuinely free elections in Iraq. In any case, according to existing plans, the US will maintain full effective control — of security, oil, economic policy, major contracts — under a rigged interim constitution whenever the formal "transfer" takes place.

The current uprising increasingly resembles the last great revolt against British rule in Iraq in 1920, which also cost more than 10,000 lives and helped bring forward the country's formal independence. But Britain maintained behind-the-scenes control, though military bases and  ministerial "advisers", until the client monarchy was finally overthrown in 1958. If Iraq is now to regain its independence, the lessons of history are that the Iraqi resistance will have to sharply raise the costs of occupation, and that those in the occupying countries who grasp the dangers, unworkability and injustice of imperial rule must increase the political pressure for withdrawal.

Unlike in, say, Spain or Australia, we are hamstrung in Britain by the fact that all three main political parties are committed to maintaining the occupation, including the Liberal Democrats — whose former leader and Bosnian governor Lord Ashdown yesterday argued for at least another decade in Iraq. But opposition to such latter-day imperial bravura is strong among the British public and across all parties, and must now find its voice.

There is a multiplicity of different possible mechanisms to bring about a negotiated, orderly withdrawal and free elections. Tony Blair calls that "running away" and admitting "we have got it all wrong". But he and Bush did get it wrong; there were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq wasn't a threat, there was no UN authorisation, and the invasion was manifestly illegal. Foreign troops in Iraq are not peacekeepers, but aggressors. The lessons of empire are having to be learned all over again.

Not so wrong, perhaps, although this is still very early days. But even the pro-Blair and pro-America British imperialist press is full of fearful pessimism, almost demoralised:

'Put simply, the wheels have come off,' said one recently retired senior British officer. 'It is true that there are 20-odd million people in Iraq and only very few proportionately are involved in the violence. But there is no doubt that sympathy for the insurgents has increased massively in recent months.'

And, added to the mix is a new rebel tactic: kidnapping. At least 25 people, including a British father-of-five from London, have been taken hostage. Some, like a group of South Korean missionaries, have been released. Others have been less lucky. Three Japanese were facing death 'unless their government withdrew from Iraq'. The aim of the kidnappers was to put pressure on the coalition by breaking the will of junior partners and the tactic maybe effective. Though the Japanese government is staying resolute, other members of the coalition, such as Thailand, indicated they might pull out if the situation worsened.

Last week's events shook everybody. The extent of the fighting is such that no-one even has a clear idea of casualties. At least 500 Iraqis are believed to have died and several thousand have been hurt. Around 50 American soldiers have been killed and at least 250 injured, many seriously. Dozens of Iraqi police or civilian contractors working with coalition troops have also been killed or hurt. One of the most worrying aspects of the violence has been the evaporation of the newly formed Iraqi security forces when confronted by insurgents. Worse, many have gone over to the other side.

This weekend the same questions are being asked in foxholes and bunkers and bullet-riddled houses in Iraq, in high-ceilinged rooms in Whitehall and in Washington, and by anyone who has watched the last few days' TV footage of burning vehicles, corpses and air strikes. What is the true picture on the ground? Is Iraq on the brink of a massive general insurrection? If so, how, only a year after the invasion was so swiftly completed, could things have gone so badly wrong? And, most important of all, what happens next?

The operations in Falluja sprang from long-term and short-term factors. With the 30 June deadline for the handing over of sovereignty to the Iraqis approaching fast, acting to end the guerrilla warfare launched from the city and its environs was imperative for the coalition. But it was the lynching of four US security specialists, lured to their deaths by men wearing the uniform of Iraqi policemen, 11 days ago that triggered the bid to control the town. American pride, military and national, were at stake. According to US administration officials, military commanders in Iraq requested permission for a massive punitive strike. It was given readily.

Sadoun told of how the US assault had begun on Monday. Helicopters and unmanned spydrones had been flying over the area for days. Then troops began moving into an industrial area just south of the main road through the city.

'They started to move on to our suburb of Nazal. An American sniper even climbed to the top of the minaret of the Abdel Aziz Samarrai mosque. Others were on house roofs. Of course some people fought them because they knew from experience that if the Americans get into your houses, they wreck them,' he said.

Neither he nor his son, Raad, carried a weapon, he insisted, but he fully supported those who did. He described how the occupation gradually deteriorated over recent months. 'When the Americans came after the fall of the regime, their vehicles moved around freely in Falluja. They had an army post in town and they walked round the streets. Children used to play with them. Later, they started to exceed the limit. During night patrols, they would shoot anyone they found. They are always pointing their guns at us, as though we are all terrorists. They crashed into cars with their tanks. They searched houses and handcuffed people, and if they could not find the man they wanted sometimes they took the woman instead,' he said.

The Marines, back in Iraq for the first time since the war last year, were keen to make a mark. Senior officers had spoken about their troops taking a gentler approach, learning Arabic, taking off their sunglasses when talking with Iraqis and avoiding tactics that would risk civilian casualties. But that was all forgotten very quickly. On Wednesday a mosque was rocketed the troops said it was being used as a firebase by rebels and scores killed. Fighting along the outer rim of the city was intense.

Like Falluja, al-Sadr was another problem that the coalition was going to have to deal with.

Paul Bremer, the American administrator in Iraq, moved 10 days ago. After a video conference with senior Bush administration figures, he had a close aide of al-Sadr arrested and shut down the cleric's rabble-rousing newspaper. Bremer also branded al-Sadr an 'outlaw', alleging his involvement in last year's murder of a moderate Shia priest who was close to Washington. In response, al-Sadr called his supporters on to the streets, attacking American troops in Baghdad, seizing several cities in the south and centre of Iraq. He is now believed to be in Najaf, surrounded by hundreds of armed fighters, and is still spitting defiance. On Friday he demanded US forces leave Iraq, saying they now faced 'a civil revolt.' Yesterday he repeated his call to arms. 'The occupation's promises are evil. They must not be heeded,' al-Sadr said in a statement issued by his office yesterday. 'Do not be scared by the sound of warplanes. Remain steadfast.'

For the moment, action against al-Sadr is impossible. Pilgrims have converged on the central Iraqi shrine cities for a religious festival. But the showdown has only been postponed. The Shia radical fringe and the Sunni rebels must be subdued if there is any chance of a peaceful transition to Iraqi sovereignty. But these battles, particularly as the US appears to have opted for a purely military strategy, are likely to be protracted and violent. There are also signs of growing cooperation between Sunni and Shia militias. On Monday, witnesses said Sunni and Shias fought together in an action in Baghdad which three American soldiers were killed. US military sources confirm 'low level' tactical coordination.


But no one denies that the fighting and rampant crime are causing huge problems. A major international oil conference due to take place in the city later this month was cancelled due to security fears. Reconstruction work has stopped in many parts of the country. The CPA has been unable to commit more than a quarter of the $18.5bn made available by the US Congress for spending before September 2005. Electricity provision is still weak, the nascent economic boom is fading fast and poor supply of medicines is causing serious hardship.

And then there is the chaotic political situation. No one is clear who will inherit power from Bremer when he leaves. The composition of government that will run the country, heavily influence by Washington via the giant American embassy that is being built, has yet to be decided.

Bush has based his reputation on being a war-time leader so the worsening situation in Iraq is profoundly damaging. Support for the war, though still over 55 per cent, has waned.

'The potential is there for a total debacle,' said John Mueller, an authority on war and public opinion at Ohio State University. 'If [Iraqis] not turned around quickly it could turn out to be one of the great foreign policy disasters in American and British history.'

The battle at Falluja is being seen as a litmus test of the Bush approach. 'They could have seen this coming,' said Chuck Pena, a defence analyst at the Cato Institute. 'The US reacted emotionally [to the deaths of the security men in Falluja], made it personal, and used disproportionate force. That was exactly the wrong response. If there were any Iraqis who were tolerant of the US occupation, I would gather they are now against us. We are eyes wide shut.'

For America, the recent violence has shattered one of the last surviving justifications offered by Bush in the runup to war: that US forces would be seen as liberators. More than 600 US troops have now died and more than 8,000 been wounded. Now, polls say, 49 per cent of American believe military action in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism. Only 28 per cent say the threat is reduced.

The Pentagon continues to maintain that the violence is the work of insurgents and militias and not a broadbased civil uprising. As the violence worsened on Wednesday, it sent out an upbeat email stating 'the modicum of support for Sadr and his Mahdi Army, always a small group operating on the margins of the Shia community, has further eroded.'

Few share such optimistic assessments. 'We're at a tipping point in Iraq, with a real danger of losing control of the situation,' said Sandy Berger, who was national security adviser to President Clinton. On Capitol Hill there are growing calls for a clear exit plan. Robert Byrd, a Democrat senator, said he watched events with 'mounting dread'. 'Surely I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam,' he said.

The greatest criticism of the White House's Iraq policy has come from right-leaning commentators and political leaders. Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News commentator and once a vocal supporter of the war, warned that the Iraq might cost Bush the election.

Pat Buchanan, the conservative politician, said bluntly, 'We have gotten ourselves bogged down in what is clearly a quagmire. What Falluja and the Shia attacks on Sunday tell us is that failure is now an option.'

The final irony, perhaps, is that the ideas promoted by neo-con pundits were finally killed by events last week. 'The events of last week were potentially a very big deal,' said Mueller. 'It may turn out to be the week that the ideas of unilateralism, of American empire, us hegemony, of spreading democracy through force, were stopped dead in their tracks.'

In the areas outside Falluja, the American army controls only what it can shoot. Everything else is up for grabs. In three days of travelling between Falluja and the nearby city of Ramadi, we saw more resistance fighters, often carrying several RPGs and heavy machine guns, than American soldiers. Few bothered to cover their faces.

On Thursday, a group of 40 fighters or so pulled us over. They were angry and aggressive, hunted by helicopters and US bombers.

The thought of being near them during an American attack was terrifying. A few minutes later, it came. The resistance sped off and we followed, passing a burning humvee and the wreckage of an SUV, leaving passports and flak jackets behind.

Last week's open rebellion in a large area around the encircled city of Falluja showed American propaganda to be just that.

For the past eight months, the American-led coalition has maintained that attacks against their forces were carried out by small numbers of disgruntled former regime supporters and foreign fighters.

But the first thing our Iraqi travelling companions yelled out when the insurgents forced guns into the car window was the name of their tribe, every sheikh they were related to and a genealogy going back generations. It was not an action that would have had much success with foreign fighters or Baathists.

The tribes that Saddam Hussein spent much of his dictatorship trying to crush have resurfaced, in a complex web of tribal fighters controlling the land around their farms. Paranoid after months of increasingly successful US intelligence work, all foreigners are considered spies.

Last month the Americans distributed leaflets in Falluja that showed a pair of eyes, with an Arabic inscription reminding the people of Falluja that they were being watched. They did not need to be told.

In the past week the area around Falluja has been turned inside out. The clandestine groups are now in charge. Our translator, who was briefly kidnapped by a resistance group outside the city, described being taken to a series of commanders working in a loose hierarchy.

When we drove from Baghdad to Ramadi on the back roads south of Falluja on Wednesday, the Americans appeared to have almost given up large areas of the countryside. At a small checkpoint near the edge of the desert, a group of eight or so marines looked bewildered.

'I've never seen anything like this,' said one. ' We told [our officers] to get us out of here. There were three mortar rounds on the first night and 12 last night. Every time we move, they are right on top of us they are getting better.'

We asked if it was safe down the road and the marine just raised an eyebrow.

Once the fighting stops, it is hard to believe that the damage of the past week can be undone.

Perhaps the most surprising result of the fighting is the unlikely support of the poor Shias for the Sunnis. This has always been a difficult relationship for foreigners to understand. On the one hand, there is enormous distrust; on the other, they are fellow Muslims.

Before driving to Ramadi on Wednesday, we spent the night at the home of a Shia family in Sadr City. 'There is no difference between Falluja and Sadr City,' said Nassir Salman, a barber who was working late. 'They are fighting and we are fighting. Inshallah, there will be jihad. But we are jealous of Falluja. We are waiting for our leaders to declare jihad. Now, it is worse than Saddam. He killed secretly — but the Americans kill us on the streets.'

This appeared to be a common sentiment in Sadr City. At the home of our hosts, 20-year-old Abbas returned from Kufa, the stronghold of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric, where he had gone to defend his leader. As he sits down in the family's small room, explosions can be heard from a close neighbourhood.

'If the Americans arrest our Sayyid Muqtada, I will die for him,' says Abbas quietly.

The next morning, there was a funeral for a neighbour killed during the night, but our host is too scared to take us, for fear that the family will attack us.

At the hospital, several corpses lie under blankets in a car parking lot and the charred remains of a body are brought in on a stretcher.

A year ago it would have been hard for a foreigner to believe Sadr City and Falluja could make common cause against the Americans, but by Friday Shias and Sunnis were praying together and sending convoys of food and medication.

At the bridge outside Falluja, the marines tell us we are 'no go' and bar us from entering the town.

As we drive back to Baghdad, men line the road handing out water, food and medicine to the refugees fleeing from Falluja. Boys direct traffic through a maze of country roads, indicating which roads are safe. Small groups of resistance fighters lounge in the ditches.

Although a long way to go, imperialist defeat is in view. Build Leninism. EPSR

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