From A World to Win News Service

Philippine Troops Leave Iraq After Kidnap Crisis--But Who Is Holding Whom Hostage?

Revolutionary Worker #1248, August 8, 2004, posted at

The following is from A World to Win News Service:

July 19, 2004, A World to Win News Service. The Philippines has joined the list of countries that have pulled their troops out of the already thin U.S.-led "coalition" in Iraq.

An American spokesman accused the Philippines of "giving in to terrorist demands" and threatened to "review" current arrangements between the two countries. But it is not true, in any basic way, that the kidnapping of a Filipino truck driver was what forced the Philippine government to withdraw its troops.

The men who seized driver Angelo de la Cruz said they would execute him unless the Philippines pulled out its troops by July 20. The Philippines complied, and the man was released on that date.

Washington had put great pressure on Manila not to go. At first, there didn't seem to be any question of the Philippines not obeying the U.S. After he rung up President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Bush's Colin Powell told the media there was no problem.

The Arroyo government is one of the U.S.'s closest allies because that country is completely dependent on the U.S. The Filipino president enthusiastically welcomed the U.S. "war on terror." She agreed to welcome large quantities of U.S. troops into her country until a national uproar made her think twice about it. Last year Washington declared the Philippines a "non-NATO ally" to more closely integrate the U.S. and Filipino armed forces.

Yet as has happened with more than a few of its willing and unwilling allies lately, the U.S. was badly disappointed. The defection of Spain, the third core member in the U.S.-U.K. axis, was immediately followed by Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Norway and Singapore pulled out most of their forces. New Zealand and Thailand announced plans to leave in September. The U.S. is said to consider Poland and the Netherlands as possibly "heading for the door". Upcoming elections may bring an end to Australian and Hungarian involvement. Even the U.K. government has been able to hold out against domestic opposition to its political support for the war only by keeping the number of its troops there relatively low.

As other countries' troops head out, U.S. soldiers are going in the other direction. The U.S. is bringing back American troops previously sent home from Iraq and transferring in soldiers from South Korea and Germany. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted to Congress last week that U.S. troops are likely to stay in Iraq for what was characterized as "a good number of years." Contrary to American hopes, attacks on coalition forces have climbed since the phony handover of "sovereignty" to Iraq last month.

In this context, the U.S. reacted with real pain in the face of the Philippine decision, even though the contingent at stake was only 51 soldiers. Washington complained that it "sent the wrong signal" and "emboldened" kidnappers. The real signal the Philippine pullout sent, however, was to embolden the other governments the U.S. has dragged into the war and spur on the people struggling against their countries' participation in it.

In fact, the Philippines had already announced its troops would leave Iraq by August 20. The powerful political contradictions compelling it to adopt this position were at work long before the kidnapping of the truck driver.

The problem faced by the Arroyo regime is much like that of other third world governments, only more acute: it is entirely dependent on the superpower the people of that country have deeply hated ever since the U.S. seized the Philippines at the end of the 19th century. That colonization sparked a war of national resistance that echoes in the revolutionary struggle against U.S. domination led today by the Communist Party of the Philippines.

U.S. control of the country and its alliance with imperialist-dependent Filipino businessmen and feudalistic forces so thoroughly ruined the Philippines that many millions of its people have been forced to seek work abroad. There are 1.4 million Filipino workers in the Middle East alone, including 4,000 in Iraq.

Along with thousands of South Asians and other workers in Iraq, they drive trucks, cook meals and clean the barracks for the U.S. military and generally perform jobs that used to be handled by soldiers. This is all the more vital right now, when the U.S. is desperate to send as many of its troops as possible into combat.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has hired only 30,000 Iraqis for civilian jobs so far, as compared to the 250,000 it had said would be employed by now. The U.S. is eagerly hiring ex-Baathist bigshots with blood on their hands, but apparently there aren't very many Iraqis they feel they can trust when it comes to the laboring people.

Unlike U.S. military mercenaries and some American contract workers, third-world workers in Iraq are often housed in tents in summer and winter. They are deprived of the food and other amenities enjoyed by the Americans they clean up after, and often kept semi-prisoner by a mistrusting military. Some have all but literally been kidnapped-- Indian workers who were told they were being hired to work in Kuwait when they left home found themselves bussed from there to Iraq against their will. Their employers often hold their passports to make leaving difficult. All are hostage to the conditions the U.S. and other imperialist powers impose on their homelands that forced them to seek a livelihood elsewhere.

Of course the Iraqi people themselves are America's real hostages. The occupiers consider almost the whole people their enemy. From Abu Ghraib to Falluja, from the torture of people arrested at random to helicopter gunship attacks on family homes, the occupiers are obsessed with displaying and deploying their punitive power not only to kill active fighters but to dissuade all resistance by cruelty to whomever they can catch.

It is true that the occupation depends on all the forces under the command of the U.S. and its allies in Iraq, in different ways, including not only soldiers but even civilians whose jobs amount to support work for combat forces. In a huge rally in Manila July 16, demonstrators demanded that the Arroyo government withdraw not only its troops but the contract workers as well. This is the stand of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, a revolutionary united front.

But kidnapping these workers and other civilians (real civilians, that is, not special forces in civilian clothing) is a wrong tactic.

It can never be said too many times that the way people fight has a class character. It is a reactionary and often imperialist tactic to take innocent civilians hostage, individually or collectively, with the idea that threatening or killing them can make others surrender. That tactic is based on the idea that the masses of people or a whole people are the enemy.

For imperialists and exploiters of this world, this is certainly true. But it is not true for Maoist communists and genuine liberation forces.

To take an historical example from different circumstances in people's wars, even when dealing with enemy troops Korean and Vietnamese revolutionaries made a point of giving humane treatment to captured U.S. soldiers. Through this policy and by doing political education among GIs whenever and wherever possible, the revolutionaries were able to more strongly bring out the contradiction between the imperialist rulers and the working and oppressed people they send to do their dirty work. Through the working of different factors, by the end of the Vietnam war not only was it broadly opposed throughout American society, but a great many people in the U.S., including soldiers, felt themselves on the side of the Vietnamese people.

Today in Nepal, the Maoist-led People's Liberation Army does its best to thoroughly wipe out enemy units in battle, but wounded and captured Royal Army soldiers are treated well and eventually allowed to go home--or join the rebels if they want. This policy helps disintegrate the ranks of the enemy and win over new forces to the revolution.

To look at the kidnapping and execution of civilians another way, how could the Iraqi resistance ever hope to outdo the terrorism and sheer brutality of the U.S. and its allies? The U.S. bossman in Iraq John Negroponte spent years directing death squads in Central America. His Iraqi strawboss Iyad Allawi, according to the Sidney Morning Herald , in a recent visit to a police station had six handcuffed and blindfolded Iraqi prisoners lined up against a wall, and then pulled out a pistol and personally shot them one at a time in the head at close range. Can anyone believe that such men can be influenced by threats to human life?

It could be argued that taking hostages from countries that have supplied the U.S. with troops intensifies the desire of the people of those countries to see their loved ones safely home, and embarrasses the governments. Actually, sometimes the opposite is true--rather than bringing out the conflicting interests between the masses of people and the rulers that use them as cannon fodder, such tactics can be a gift to imperialist efforts to build "national unity."

For instance, this was how the kidnapping of an Italian security guard was used by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi night after night on Italian television, in between shots of the man's weeping family and various symbolic elements to remind ordinary Italian working people that the young man was "just like them." Berlusconi's personal control of much of Italy's TV and other media is only a concentrated form of the imperialist monopoly of the instruments of public opinion in general.

What really makes people want their country's troops to leave Iraq is their own hatred of this unjust war and their experience with imperialism (in countries dominated by it or within the belly of the beast). Spain was forced to pull out its troops because the people hated the war and the Aznar government. The parents of American hostage Nick Berg--beheaded in very murky circumstances--did not need the killing of their son to make them strong opponents of the war and their government. They continued to take this stand afterward, insisting that Bush and his henchmen were ultimately responsible for their son's death no matter who killed him.

Although a pragmatist might say that the kidnapping bore fruit in the case of the Filipino lorry driver, in fact such tactics work against the resistance forces being able to appeal to the far more powerful underlying strategic contradictions between the whole world's oppressed and exploited and their common enemies.

In order to hide what they are up to from their own people, many countries such as Italy and the Philippines and others claim that their soldiers are serving a non-combat or even a purely humanitarian mission. But no matter what individual soldiers are doing, that doesn't change the overall nature of the contradiction between the Iraqi people and the occupiers that these soldiers are part of.

In the same way, even if it some anti-U.S. forces in Iraq use tactics reflecting their own backward and reactionary outlook, that doesn't change the basic contradiction either.