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Veteran activist Tariq Ali on:
What's next in Iraq?

April 9, 2004 | Pages 6 and 7

TARIQ ALI is a veteran political activist since the 1960s, and a filmmaker, novelist and author. His most recent books include The Clash of Fundamentalisms and Bush in Babylon: The Recolonization of Iraq. Tariq spoke to Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER about the aims of the U.S. occupation and the growing Iraqi resistance.

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WHAT ARE the motives for the U.S. occupation? The Bush administration, of course, claims that it has removed an evil dictator and is promoting democracy and freedom.

I DON'T think that very many people outside the U.S. believe this. Even in countries that have troops there, the population is against the war and occupation.

With every passing day, it becomes clear that the principal aim of the U.S. in invading and occupying Iraq had very little to do with democracy or even toppling a dictator, and a great deal to do with exercising imperial power, showing both the region and the rest of the world that this is how modern imperialism works--that the U.S. cannot be defied, and if it is defied, it reserves the right to punish defiance.

Iraq was meant to be the country where this would be demonstrated. Another principal reason was to grab the Iraqi market--to grab Iraqi oil and divide it among the West, as used to be the case long years ago when Iraq was ruled by the British.

This occupation takes place now in a very changed international context. This is a 21st century occupation. It takes place in the context of neoliberal economics and a global offensive by corporate capitalism.

And another feature of this global offensive is a continuing effort on the part of the U.S. not to allow countries in different parts of the world to develop regional alliances, but to deal bilaterally with the U.S. That's what they've done in the Far East, that's what they've done in South Asia, that's what they've done in the Middle East, that's what they impose on Latin America.

Any attempt to create a strong regional alliance that could challenge neoliberal hegemony, they will crush. Iraq was a country outside their control economically and politically, and they wanted to "set it right."

There is a subsidiary reason, though I don't think that it's a main reason. The Israeli regime wanted Iraq out of the way because it felt that this was the only country that had the potential to stop Israeli atrocities against Palestine. Not that Iraq would have done this, but it could have done this, and why not remove the risk altogether?

These were the principal reasons for the U.S. entry into Iraq. If you look on the economic level, what's going on is very straightforward. The entire Iraqi economy has been privatized. The American corporations are in.

The South Koreans and the Japanese have been promised concessions and contracts if they commit troops. The South Korean president more or less said that. After Korea won 100 odd contracts, he said, "You see, if we did not send troops, we would not have gotten this contract." He's honest. But that is the reason that a number of these countries sent troops--apart from the East Europeans who had just wanted to be U.S. satellites.

But the Polish president is getting cross now--pretending to be irritated, and saying that he didn't know there were no weapons of mass destruction--because Poland got very tiny contracts. Even the British, who backed Bush to the hilt, haven't gotten many contracts.

It's interesting that the British got the contract to redo the sewage system, which is quite appropriate because that's the role that Blair plays--as the sewage cleaner of the American Empire. It's quite funny--whoever decided that in the Pentagon must have had a sense of humor.

This is the process that's now underway. Iraq's health system, Iraq's housing, Iraq's educational system are all being privatized. They are waiting to implant a puppet government, which they hope to do after the "handover" on June 30. Then they'll start dealing with the oil as well.

There's no doubt that one of the big demands on Ahmed Chalabi and the puppets will be to make the oil accessible to foreign companies. And the argument that the puppets and the U.S. will use is that the amount of investment needed to clear up the backlog in Iraqi oil and the mess in the Iraqi oilfields can't come from an Iraqi state devastated by war, but can only come from foreign companies.

This is the plan. But the question is: Is the plan being implemented in an effective way? And you can read every day on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times that this plan is not effective. The resistance is now targeting foreign businesses. This is going to pose problems for political, military and economic planning by the U.S.

Militarily, they're in a mess. If the leaders of the southern part of the country decide to go into rebellion openly, then that would be, in my view, the end of the first phase of the occupation and the emergence of a big national liberation movement. It hasn't happened as of yet, but all the indications are that it could.

THE BUSH administration said that the resistance was made up of Saddam loyalists, and then foreigners, and then Islamists, and then foreign Islamists. It also claimed that the capture of Saddam Hussein would disorient the resistance. What's the reality?

THE RESISTANCE, as some of us argued, was there from the beginning of the occupation. If you compare the Iraqi resistance--its scale, its size, its effectiveness--to the resistance in France or Belgium against German occupation during the Second World War, or in Italy against the fascist dictatorship, there's no comparison.

It took a number of years for the French resistance to reach the stage that the Iraqi had reached from week one. The Iraqi resistance to pre-emptive wars and foreign occupation has been on a much higher level in terms of military planning than the French, Italian and Belgian resistance were during the Second World War against German occupation.

I think the principal mistake that the U.S. made was to believe--if, in fact, they believed it--that the resistance was being masterminded by Saddam. All the information from Iraq right from the beginning showed that Saddam was out of it--that essentially the resistance was decentralized, based in individual cities, villages and sections of the country. There's no way that any single person could control it.

I remember arguing, well before Saddam's capture, with Christoper Hitchens on the Democracy Now! radio program, and I said the notion that the capture of Saddam will end the resistance is just not serious. Hitchens actually agreed with me on that, but most other supporters of the Bush regime didn't. They thought that once Saddam was captured, that would be it.

Howard Dean, the former Democratic presidential contender, who said at the time that Saddam's capture would not solve the problem, was denounced by the mainstream press for having dared to say it. But he was right on that particular question.

And so were all of us who argued that, in fact, Saddam's capture might enhance the resistance, because lots of people who might not have wanted to come forward, fearing that Saddam's wing of the Baath Party might emerge again, would now do so. That's exactly what happened.

The resistance has grown, and we see attacks on occupation forces every day--and not just the U.S. forces. In southern Iraq, there's been a growth in the resistance, relatively speaking. British soldiers have come under fire. They've been attacked on the streets of Basra by kids.

There's a real connection now with the occupation of Palestine and the occupation of Iraq. The Israelis are advising the Pentagon to do what the Israelis do--stay in their own military bases, and go out and hit when they want to hit.

We'll see if the U.S. follows the Israeli model in punishing Falluja for what happened last week, when the American contractors were ambushed. If the U.S. follows Israel's advice, they will bomb Falluja and kill people to punish them. But this would be very foolish--just totally counterproductive.

This is what happens in a colonial situation--you're attacked, you go and punish people who attacked you, lots of innocent people are killed, the killing of Iraqi innocents then creates more anger, and more people join the resistance. This is the iron law of resistance movements. So if the U.S. follows Israeli advice and Israeli patterns, I'm afraid the situation will escalate very rapidly.

WHAT DO the killings in Falluja attack say about developments within the resistance?

BASICALLY, THE number of resistance groups is growing. There are two forms of resistance in Iraq today. There's an unarmed resistance, which is being waged by Shiite religious leaders in the south.

The key leader here is Ayatollah Sistani. He is fighting politically and sending messages--this is what we want, this is what we don't want. He is demanding free elections to a constituent assembly, which he is not going to get. So far, he asks for these things, some concessions are made, and he retreats. But there's a limit to how long this can go on.

The U.S. handover at the end of June will be--to be perfectly frank--a total charade. The U.S. will hand over power to people they trust, appoint the prime minister of the new Iraq, retreat to eight or nine key bases--essentially the old bases of the Iraqi army--and let the puppets do the bidding of the U.S. The very weak police and army units of the puppet government will take the hits from the resistance.

But this is not going to change anything, in my opinion. The only thing that could change is that Sistani and some of the religious parties in the South would see that the handover is a complete fraud and demand immediate elections.

If these elections are denied, they could break from the governing council, and if these groups break, there will be mayhem in Iraq--have no doubt about that. The U.S. is fearful of permitting an election because they know that the puppets that they have brought over--the "house Arabs" they've transported from the U.S.--will not win these elections.

The elections will be won by parties that want the U.S. out and that want Iraqi control of Iraqi oil. Given that this wasn't the aim of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, there's no way that the U.S. is going to accept that.

So what I foresee is a continued struggle until there is a large antiwar movement in the U.S., which puts sufficient pressure on senators and congressional representatives to pull out of Iraq, like happened in Vietnam. These are very different times, and it won't be exactly the same.

But nonetheless, what is argued in the U.S. is of enormous significance. The tragedy is that the Democrats have picked a leader to run for president who changes his mind every second day and who is not credible as a candidate. He hasn't come out staunchly against the war. He says that the war was wrong, but instead of saying that they should pull out, he wants more troops to be sent to shore up the occupation.

In this situation, until the election is over, the antiwar movement, I think, will be on tenterhooks. But once the election is over, regardless of who wins, the goal has to be to really up the pressure on the White House and the officialdom in the U.S. to demand an end to the occupation.

I mean, you have a big growth in Iraqi civilian casualties, and you have American soldiers and others being killed. There's no reason on earth why these soldiers or Iraqi civilians should be killed. That is why an end to the occupation is absolutely necessary.

And the notion that the Iraqi people are incapable of determining their own future is a total joke. They are perfectly capable of doing deals with each other--they've done so in the past, and they'll do so again.

And you can't exclude the Ba'ath Party from this. Purged of Saddam and his factions, which were totally degenerated, the Ba'ath is a legitimate party, just like the religious parties, just like the Iraqi Communist Party--both the collaborationist wing that supports the U.S. occupation and the non-collaborationist wing.

If these people get together at a convention--and there are signs that this could happen--the U.S. won't be able to keep control of the country. And it will be in the interest of Kurdish leaders to go along with this, because if the Kurds isolate themselves, there will be no one to defend them against any Turkish intrusions.

HAS THE U.S. attempt to win support for their plans from Shiite leaders failed?

I THINK it's on the verge of failure in my opinion. I think that once the handover takes place, you will have a jockeying for power. And if Sistani and the groups that are allied to him are denied what they want, they will break.

Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in public, "We want to change the Iraqi mind." This is a pretty disgusting statement actually. It's a sort of semi-fascist statement. What she is saying is that we want the Iraqis to support the occupation, and if they don't, we'll denounce them as supporters of Saddam.

What this completely fails to understand--and this is what I argued at length in my book Bush in Babylon--is that there are large numbers of people in Iraq who loath Saddam Hussein and his regime and everything it stood for, but who are equally, if not even more, hostile to the U.S. for occupying their country.

The notion that Iraqi politics can only be divided into two--either you're for Saddam, or you're for the occupation--is a joke. It's the same thing that Bush said after 9/11--if you're not with us, you're for the terrorists. It's a completely false dichotomy. It was wrong in relation to 9/11, and it's totally wrong in relation to Iraq.

The fact is that the war is going badly for them--and that's why you see serious splits within the ruling elite itself--as you saw with Paul O'Neill's departure as treasury secretary and now Richard Clarke walking out of the White House and basically denouncing the regime in quite sharp language for invading Iraq. This would not have happened had there not been a resistance in Iraq.

THE MEDIA is playing up the killings of the U.S. contractors in Falluja as evidence of the barbarism of the Iraqi "insurgents." How do you think we should respond to this?

FIRST, IT'S very interesting that in the press conference about Falluja given by the U.S. Brigadier Gen. Mark Kimmit, he said that there are two different sorts of violence in Iraq. One is that used by terrorists who carry out suicide bombings, and this is largely the work of al-Qaeda--and incidentally, I don't think that's totally true.

The second form of violence that he distinguishes from terrorism is "insurgence." "Insurgence" is the code word that the American military uses to describe the resistance. This is the word that they've instructed the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the rest of the American media to use.

Kimmit said very clearly that what took place in Falluja was an act by insurgents. Obviously, what took place was pretty horrific, there's no denying that. It was very brutal, which is not something I defend.

But what is equally interesting is that none of the real footage was shown in the Western media. It was shown on the Arab networks, but not the Western media. They showed a car being blown up, but they didn't show the atrocities.

The reason that they don't show it is that they don't want to demoralize American public opinion. Because even people who support the war would say, "My God, we didn't realize it was as bad as this."

I've always argued that when you have ugly occupations, you cannot have a pretty resistance. It's the character and form of the occupation that determines the nature of the resistance.

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