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What should activists say about the fight against occupation?
The politics of resistance

July 23, 2004 | Page 10

PAUL D'AMATO, who writes the biweekly "Meaning of Marxism" column for Socialist Worker, looks at the issue facing the antiwar movement of whether and how to support Iraq's right to self-determination.

AFTER GEORGE W. Bush declared victory in Iraq, whole sections of the antiwar movement weren't sure what to say about the resulting occupation. Many weren't prepared to support the demand for Iraq's self-determination--that Iraqis alone should have the right to decide their future themselves.

Among the arguments against calling for an immediate end to occupation were fears that internal strife would lead to civil war, a Shiite theocracy would arise, Iraq would descend into economic chaos, and a new Saddam-like dictatorship might arise. Many of these same arguments were advanced by apologists for occupation, but they also influenced the thinking of opponents of the invasion.

But the cumulative effect of the exposure of Bush's lies, revelations of widespread torture of Iraqis, mounting casualties among U.S. soldiers and the growth of a large-scale Iraqi resistance among not only Sunnis, but the Shiite majority, have begun to convince more and more people that the U.S. should get out of Iraq now.

On July 13, for example, the California Federation of Labor voted overwhelmingly to "demand an immediate end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and to support the repeal of the Patriot Act and the reordering of national priorities toward the human needs of our people." But there are still many who, though they support withdrawal, aren't prepared to defend the Iraqi people's right to resist the U.S. occupation--on the grounds that the resistance may be led by Islamists or supporters of Saddam Hussein, or that it uses questionable tactics.

Truth be told, the U.S. has no problem with making use of former henchman of the Saddam regime or Islamist forces if this means they can secure stronger control over Iraq or anywhere else. Islamist "jihadists" fighting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan were dubbed "freedom fighters" by U.S. politicians in the 1980s--to give one obvious example of Washington's willingness to gain its ends by whatever means necessary.

More to the point, U.S. officials are now kicking themselves for having dismantled the old regime's army--because they realize how useful former officials of Saddam's Baath Party would be to re-establish order in Iraq. Indeed, Iraq's new Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was an assassin in Saddam's secret police before he became a CIA asset in the 1970s. There is even talk among some U.S. commentators of dismembering Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni states--a move that would trigger ethnic cleansing and mass removal of populations.

The point is that the U.S. is concerned above all with establishing order, using a regime that it can rely on to allow U.S. businesses and the U.S. military to set up shop unhindered in Iraq. Democracy is a hindrance to the achievement of these goals.

The battle in Iraq, then, isn't between "democracy" on one side and "Islamic terror" on the other--but between a conquering imperialist power and a resistance movement trying to drive them out. Whatever the politics of the combatants, this is the essence of the conflict.

As the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky once wrote: "In the calendar of human progress, a republic rates above a monarchy. But does this signify that a war waged by republican France, say, against monarchist Holland for colonies would be a war of a republic against a monarchy? We shall not even dwell on the fact that in the event of a national war waged by the bey of Tunis against France, progress would be on the side of the barbarian monarch, and not that of the imperialist republic.

"Hygiene occupies an important place in human culture. But when a murder is involved, the question of whether the murderer washed his hands beforehand is not of decisive importance."

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THE TRUTH is that the U.S. government conducted an illegal war of conquest against Iraq. The real reasons for the invasion had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction or liberating an oppressed people, as the Bush administration claimed. In the words of Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the invasion of Iraq reflected the U.S. government's "predatory imperial ambitions to dominate the world."

To enforce its control over Iraq, the U.S.--according to the Iraq Body Count Web site--has killed at least 11, 300 civilians, and probably many more. That is leaving aside the thousands of insurgents that it has killed in the past months (4,000 in April alone, according to some military officers).

U.S. forces have imprisoned thousands and engaged in systematic torture. They have bombed wedding parties, houses and whole towns. In short, the U.S. is engaging in an all-out war on the Iraqi people.

It is this that has driven a majority of the Iraqi people to oppose the U.S. occupation and swelled the ranks of the armed resistance. An Associated Press story that interviewed U.S. officers concludes that the resistance has at least 20,000 active guerrillas. The resistance, officers say, is driven chiefly by a desire to expel the U.S.

On the orders of Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of U.S. Central Command, Army analysts looked closely for evidence that Iraq's insurgency was adopting extreme Islamist goals, according to the report. Analysts learned that ridding Iraq of U.S. troops was the motivation for most insurgents, not the formation of an Islamic state. "Every public opinion poll in Iraq," notes respected mainstream analyst Anthony Cordesman, "supports the nationalist character of what is happening."

Indeed, a face-to-face poll commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority in May found that 92 percent of Iraqis considered the U.S. "occupiers"--and only 2 percent considered them "liberators." The poll, taken after the attempts by the U.S. to crush the resistance in Falluja and Karbala, showed high levels of sympathy for the resistance.

Eighty percent had an "improved opinion" of Moktadr al-Sadr, the militant Muslim cleric whose followers have fought U.S.-led coalition forces, and 64 percent said that the actions of the resistance had helped unify Iraq. According to one assessment, "There are perhaps more than 50 different resistance organizations consisting of Baathists, dissident communists, nationalists, groups of Iraqi soldiers and officers disbanded by the occupation, and Sunni and Shia religious groups."

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IN OTHER words, the evidence confirms that what is shaping up in Iraq is a popular national resistance against occupation. Some U.S. soldiers have had no trouble making the connection. "It was a mistake to discount the Iraqi resistance," Lt. Col. Kim Keslung told the Wall Street Journal last October. "If someone invaded Texas, we'd do the same thing."

Of course, the tactics of the resistance may be productive or counterproductive. Indiscriminate bombing of civilians, for example, is counterproductive to building popular support for the fight against occupation.

But antiwar activists must be careful to distinguish such valid criticisms from the racist propaganda that denounces all resistance to conquest as "terrorist." Moreover, we aren't in a position to determine whether some of the more devastating attacks on civilians were promoted or encouraged to discredit the resistance.

In any case, antiwar activists must distinguish between the much more devastating violence of the oppressor (the U.S. government, with its large army of "foreign fighters") and the violence of the oppressed (the Iraqi insurgents), which pales in comparison to the former. U.S. violence is designed to secure control of Iraqi territory and oil. The resistance hopes to free Iraq from U.S. domination. The two are not equivalent.

Any rejection of the right of Iraqis to unite against the U.S. can fall into the trap of accepting the "white man's burden." As one left-wing assessment of the war notes, "The idea [that] we in the U.S. know better than the people of Iraq how their society should be organized, how their economy should be run, what should be taught in their schools, even how they should practice their a bankrupt idea, and one that feeds directly into the administration's rationalizations for an indefinite occupation. Our stand is simple--Iraq for the Iraqis. Let them decide what their future will hold."

Iraq's future today is being determined not by the Iraqi people, but by the U.S., which is imposing its will through a handpicked regime that has imposed martial law, is bringing back the death penalty and continues to use Saddam's old labor laws to ban independent unions.

Self-determination is a basic democratic demand, like freedom of speech and assembly. We can't say that we are for freedom of assembly, except for parties we don't agree with. In the same way, we can't say that we are for Iraq's self-determination, except if they choose the wrong government.

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ONLY U.S withdrawal will bring the possibility of real democracy in Iraq. Moreover, any other struggle for social justice in Iraq--whether for jobs, for workers' control over workplace conditions and oil production or for women's freedom--can't be understood or achieved separately from the question of ending the U.S. occupation.

A stronger grip of U.S. imperialism will reinforce, as it always has, the most reactionary aspects of the societies that it dominates. The U.S. invasion and occupation have opened up a chaotic period by removing the Baath police dictatorship in which various struggles can develop.

The U.S. and its puppets want to close this period as quickly as possible--and reimpose Saddamism without Saddam. Therefore, any struggle for workers and women's liberation in Iraq must be linked to the struggle against the occupation--not treated as if it is separate.

The fight to liberate Iraq from foreign domination isn't only of importance to the Iraqi people. It is crucial for us in the U.S. and people around the world. When the invasion began in March 2003, the Bush administration thought the conquest of Iraq would be a "cakewalk." Instead, there has been a steadily growing resistance, involving protests, demonstrations, strikes and armed actions of various kinds.

It is this resistance that has thwarted U.S. imperial designs elsewhere in the Middle East and created a political crisis for the Bush administration at home. Resistance abroad and protest at home--this combination of factors can not only defeat the current Bush administration, but any future presidency that tries to use Iraq as a stepping stone for a U.S. war on the world.

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