Why you should support the opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq
July 2, 2004 | Pages 6 and 7
IN THE days before the June 30 deadline for the U.S. occupiers of Iraq to "hand over" power to their handpicked interim government, Iraqi resistance forces attacked U.S. and pro-occupation Iraqi troops in one city after another. The wave of attacks--in Falluja, Ramadi, Baquba, Mosul and Baghdad--killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds more.
In Baquba, a city 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, resistance fighters succeeded in driving U.S. forces to the outskirts of the town--an outcome reminiscent of the defeat of U.S. troops in Falluja in April. "There was so much fighting here this morning," said Abdel Humam, a resident of Baquba. "The freedom fighters took control of everything here and kicked the Americans out of the city."
ERIC RUDER answers your questions about the growing opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq--and explains why anyone interested in justice and freedom in Iraq should support the right of Iraqis to resist.
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WHAT'S BEHIND the recent offensive?
THE IRAQI resistance is targeting U.S. troops, and also Iraqis who are collaborating with the U.S., in order to discredit the June 30 transfer of power from the U.S.'s Coalition Provisional Authority to another government handpicked by the U.S. But the June 30 date is only a symbolic target.
The resistance is fed by resentments against the U.S. that have been growing since the beginning of the occupation. First, there's the torturously slow pace of reconstruction that has left Iraqis worse off than under the rule of Saddam Hussein.
This partly explains why some of the fiercest fighting recently was centered in Baquba. "Since the fall of the regime, not a single penny was allocated to this town," said Awf Abdul Rida Ahmad, the mayor of a suburb of Baquba.
Second, the U.S. drive to contain, capture or kill the Iraqi resistance during the last year has stoked anger among Iraqis. Revelations of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal enraged people across Iraq--but so have the day-to-day operations of U.S. forces. House-to-house military sweeps, body searches of Iraqi women conducted by male soldiers and the killing of civilians at checkpoints are just a few of the injustices suffered by many Iraqis.
When the U.S. does meet resistance, its use of indiscriminate lethal force--such as the strafing of large areas of Baquba by Apache helicopters--has only spurred more people to join the resistance.
WHO MAKES up the resistance?
U.S. OFFICIALS variously blame the armed opposition in Iraq on "foreign fighters," "Saddam loyalists" and "Islamic terrorists." The idea that foreign fighters are responsible for the bulk of the resistance--or even a fraction of it--is easy to dispel.
There are roughly 25,000 resistance fighters participating in actions at least occasionally, according to Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan and an expert on the Iraqi resistance. Cole suspects that, at most, 400 to 500 fighters are from outside Iraq--a tiny number compared to the homegrown Iraqi fighters.
Of those 25,000, a handful may profess loyalty to the now-captured Saddam Hussein. Under Saddam, Sunni Muslims, who make up roughly 20 percent of Iraq's population, were the most powerful group--while Iraq's Shiite population, which accounts for 60 percent of the population, was largely cut out of economic and political power.
But many resistance fighters in Sunni strongholds such as Falluja aren't really pro-Saddam as much as they are Iraqi nationalists who also identify with other victims of U.S. imperialism, such as Palestinian Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by Israeli forces on March 22.
In fact, the resistance fighters who ambushed and killed the four American mercenaries employed by Blackwater on March 31 in Falluja said their attack was retaliation for Yassin's assassination. The U.S. responded ferociously, surrounding Falluja with barbed wire and laying siege to the city, bombing buildings and sniping at anyone who dared to go outside.
U.S. forces massacred at least 600 people in Falluja--half of them women and children. But the resistance wasn't beaten, and within two weeks, it forced U.S. troops to withdraw to the outskirts of the city.
When U.S. military officials handed power over to a former general in Saddam's army, they tried to act as if the new arrangement was a favorable development. But the truth is that Falluja has become a no-go zone for U.S. troops, and the very resistance fighters who drove out the U.S. now control the city.
This episode--more than any other since the U.S. occupation began--enhanced the prestige of the Iraqi resistance and showed that it was possible to stand up to U.S. forces and win. What's more, the brutality of the U.S. assault on Falluja fostered growing unity between Sunnis and Shiites--something that would have been unthinkable a year or so earlier.
"The [Shiite] neighborhood of Kazimiyah in Baghdad had an old rivalry with its neighbor, the relatively upscale Sunni Azamiyah quarter," Cole wrote in the May issue of Le Monde Diplomatique. "But they put their enmity aside to raise a convoy of 60 trucks of relief supplies and headed for Falluja on April 8. Accompanying crowds waved posters of Sheikh Yassin and Moqtada al-Sadr. Hapless U.S. Marines had to let them through."
Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has emerged as the chief resistance leader among Shiites, but--as in the case of Falluja--it was the U.S. assault on Sadr's Mahdi Army that enhanced his prestige and profile, raising him to the level of a national figure. Sadr, whose base of support is in the poor slums around Baghdad, represents one wing of the religious-oriented opposition to the U.S. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani represents more moderate Shiite opposition forces.
The U.S. has tried to woo Sistani's support with promises of power in the new Iraq, Meanwhile, Washington shut down Sadr's newspaper, issued an arrest warrant for him and ruthlessly tried to kill and isolate his militia. The U.S. decided on a strategy of open confrontation with Sadr the day after Sadr declared on April 2 that "the fate of Iraq and Palestine is the same."
In response, Sadr, who had earlier ordered his militia not to fire on U.S. troops, launched his uprising. This earned Sadr a great deal of respect, even among those who don't favor his brand of Islamic fundamentalism.
"I don't like Moqtada personally," Haidar Abbas, a resident of Sadr City, told the Washington Post. "Look at what he's done--gotten a lot of people killed by sending them out against American tanks. But of course, what he says, it's true. What have the Americans brought us? We are worse off than ever. Moqtada wants them out, and who can argue with that?"
WHAT ABOUT the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq?
THE U.S. has recently issued a steady stream of accusations that al-Qaeda operatives loyal to Osama bin Laden are active in Iraq. But the evidence doesn't support this claim. "Bin Laden has a general policy of not putting resources into situations that are already in turmoil," Cole told Asia Times Online. "My information is that bin Laden is not interested in Iraq."
Historically, Saddam Hussein's secular regime fiercely opposed bin Laden's Wahhabist current of Islam. If today there are any al-Qaeda forces in Iraq, it's only because U.S. intervention created a fertile terrain for recruitment.
WHAT IS the character of the resistance?
DESPITE THE recent wave of attacks, the level of coordination and centralized command of the resistance is still at a low level. At this stage, the resistance is generally made up of small cells operating independently of one another.
"We're talking about people who are the equivalent of the Minutemen," said Bruce Hoffman, an adviser to U.S. officials in Baghdad--referring to the militias during the American Revolution made up of civilians who could be mobilized on a minute's notice. They pick up their weapons and join the fight, and then go back to their homes and farms. It makes it so fluid. And the media functions as the town crier, like the calls from the minaret."
The U.S. has the best-equipped military in the world for carrying out a frontal assault on a conventional military force, which explains why Saddam's military was defeated so quickly in the weeks after last year's invasion. But fighting a guerrilla force is an entirely different matter.
Combined with the inherent difficulties of battling a resistance that enjoys support from the local population--and that can easily melt away into the population if met with overwhelming force--U.S. officials have also been hobbled by their ignorance of Arab culture and a string of strategic blunders, such as underestimating the Falluja resistance.
Like in other conflicts where an occupying force attempts to crush a homegrown resistance, the U.S. is frustrated by its inability to pinpoint a target. "We can't find...a particular command-and-control structure that leads to one or two or three particular nodes," said Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz. "But I'm confident there are some leaders who have the wealth to continue...paying people to do business."
The problem for the U.S., however, is that the political goal of privatizing Iraq's economy and making it a showcase of U.S. power has pushed many Iraqi business leaders to back the resistance--in turn, worsening the military problem.
Wealthy Sunnis in Falluja, for example, have funded the resistance because the lifting of restrictions on foreign capital spells economic ruin for them. They realize that the more fierce the resistance is, the less willing that foreign corporations will be to invest in Iraq.
SHOULD WE support Iraqis when they resist the occupation using armed force?
ONE WAY of addressing this question is to recognize that Iraqis have had little choice but to resist using armed force--because the U.S. military has responded to unarmed demonstrations and other forms of political resistance with such brutality. Falluja was the site of one of the first massacres of unarmed demonstrators, when U.S. troops opened fire on people chanting "No to Saddam! No to the U.S.!" killing 17 and wounding 70 more within a few weeks of the invasion.
The right to struggle for self-determination using armed force is a part of international law and widely recognized as a legitimate right for people living under foreign domination. So U.S. officials have tried to demonize Iraqis who resist.
They claim that Iraqi "savages" have no respect for human life and only understand the language of force. Therefore, the U.S. has no alternative but to escalate the violence. "The nature of this culture is you can't win a war of attrition with them," said Col. Robert Abrams. "[I]t's a circle of violence--there will always be someone in the family who will pick up arms. Unless you want to kill too many people, which of course we never want to do."
What a hypocrite! The U.S. has already killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in just the latest stage of a U.S. military and economic war that stretches back to 1990. The total number of Washington's victims in Iraq is well over 1 million. How many more would be "too many"?
In the U.S., July 4 is Independence Day, a celebration of the U.S. war to overthrow British colonial rule. Of course, the American revolutionaries--so beloved of the Bushes and Cheneys and Rumsfelds--used guerrilla resistance methods to drive out the British. In 1775, British Brig. Gen. Hugh Percy wrote to the king that he was, "exasperated at the cruelty and barbarity of the rebels, who scalped and cut off the ears of some of the wounded men who fell into their hands."
Every guerrilla struggle waging a war to drive out a foreign power has tried to sap the will of the would-be occupiers with a combination of speed, mobility, ferocity and the ability blend into the civilian population. U.S. forces can't claim to be acting in self-defense. Their very presence in Iraq is the first blow.
If the Iraqi resistance drives the U.S. out of Iraq, it would be a major setback for Bush's agenda and the agenda of U.S. imperialism. This would be a tremendous victory for our side--making it much more difficult for the U.S. to choose a new target in the Middle East or elsewhere in trying to impose its will.
A U.S. defeat will save countless lives--including the lives of U.S. soldiers who are used by Bush and his corporate backers to fight wars where they risk everything and gain nothing.
The Iraqi resistance to the U.S. is growing in numbers and experience with every passing day. The only question is how long the U.S. will stay before it decides the price is too high--and on what terms it will leave. For the sake of the lives of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers alike, the time to end the occupation and bring the troops home is now.