Resistance is the first
step towards Iraqi independence
This is the classic initial stage
of guerrilla warfare against a colonial occupation
Monday November 3, 2003
Some weeks ago, Pentagon inmates were invited to a
special in-house showing of an old movie. It was the Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo's anti-colonial
classic, initially banned in France. One assumes the purpose of the screening was purely
educative. The French won that battle, but lost the war.
At least the Pentagon understands that the resistance
in Iraq is following a familiar anti-colonial pattern. In
the movie, they would have seen acts carried out by the Algerian maquis almost half a century ago, which could have been filmed
in Fallujah or Baghdad last week. Then, as now, the occupying power described
all such activities as "terrorist". Then, as now, prisoners were
taken and tortured, houses that harboured them
or their relatives were destroyed, and repression was multiplied. In the
end, the French had to withdraw.
As American "postwar" casualties now exceed
those sustained during the invasion (which cost the Iraqis at least 15,000
lives), a debate of sorts has begun in the US. Few can deny that Iraq under US occupation is in a much worse state than it was under
Saddam Hussein. There is no reconstruction. There is mass unemployment.
Daily life is a misery, and the occupiers and their puppets cannot provide
even the basic amenities of life. The US doesn't even trust the Iraqis to clean their barracks,
and so south Asian and Filipino migrants are being used. This is colonialism
in the epoch of neo-liberal capitalism, and so US and "friendly" companies
are given precedence. Even under the best circumstances, an occupied Iraq would become an oligarchy of crony capitalism, the
new cosmopolitanism of Bechtel and Halliburton.
It is the combination of all this that fuels the resistance
and encourages many young men to fight. Few are prepared to betray those
who are fighting. This is crucially important, because without the tacit
support of the population, a sustained resistance is virtually impossible.
The Iraqi maquis have weakened
George Bush's position in the US and enabled Democrat politicians to criticise the White House, with Howard Dean daring to suggest
a total US withdrawal within two years. Even the bien pensants who opposed the war but support the occupation and
denounce the resistance know that without it they would have been confronted
with a triumphalist chorus from the warmongers.
Most important, the disaster in Iraq has indefinitely delayed further adventures in Iran and Syria.
One of the more comical sights in recent months was
Paul Wolfowitz on one of his many visits informing
a press conference in Baghdad that the "main problem was that there
were too many foreigners in Iraq". Most Iraqis see the occupation
armies as the real "foreign terrorists". Why? Because once you
occupy a country, you have to behave in colonial fashion. This happens
even where there is no resistance, as in the protectorates of Bosnia and Kosovo. Where there is resistance, as in Iraq, the only model on offer is a mixture of Gaza and Guantanamo.
Nor does it behove western
commentators whose countries are occupying Iraq to lay down conditions for those opposing it. It is
an ugly occupation, and this determines the response. According to Iraqi
opposition sources, there are more than 40 different resistance organisations. They consist of Ba'athists,
dissident communists, disgusted by the treachery of the Iraqi Communist
party in backing the occupation, nationalists, groups of Iraqi soldiers
and officers disbanded by the occupation, and Sunni and Shia religious
The great poets of Iraq - Saadi Youssef and Mudhaffar al-Nawab - once brutally persecuted by Saddam, but still in
exile, are the consciences of their nation. Their angry poems denouncing
the occupation and heaping scorn on the jackals - or quislings - help to
sustain the spirit of resistance and renewal.
Youssef writes: I'll spit in the jackals' faces/ I'll spit
on their lists/ I'll declare that we are the people of Iraq/ We are the ancestral trees
of this land.
And Nawwab: And never trust
a freedom fighter/ Who turns up with no arms/ Believe me, I got burnt in
that crematorium/ Truth is, you're only as big as your cannons/ While those
who wave knives and forks/ Simply have eyes for their stomachs.
In other words, the resistance is predominantly Iraqi
- though I would not be surprised if other Arabs are crossing the borders
to help. If there are Poles and Ukrainians in Baghdad and Najaf, why should Arabs
not help each other? The key fact of the resistance is that it is decentralised - the classic first stage of guerrilla warfare
against an occupying army. Yesterday's downing of a US Chinook helicopter
follows that same pattern. Whether these groups will move to the second
stage and establish an Iraqi National Liberation Front remains to be seen.
As for the UN acting as an "honest broker",
forget it - especially in Iraq, where it is part of the problem. Leaving aside its
previous record (as the administrator of the killer sanctions, and the
backer of weekly Anglo-American bombing raids for 12 years), on October
16 the security council disgraced itself again by welcoming "the
positive response of the international community... to the broadly representative
governing council... [and] supports the governing
council's efforts to mobilise the people of Iraq..." Meanwhile a beaming fraudster, Ahmed Chalabi, was given the Iraqi seat at the UN. One can't help
recalling how the US and Britain insisted on Pol Pot retaining his seat for
over a decade after being toppled by the Vietnamese. The only norm recognised by the security council is
brute force, and today there is only one power with the capacity to deploy
it. That is why, for many in the southern hemisphere and elsewhere, the
UN is the US.
The Arab east is today the venue of a dual occupation:
the US-Israeli occupation of Palestine and Iraq. If initially the Palestinians were demoralised by the fall of Baghdad, the emergence of a resistance movement has encouraged
them. After Baghdad fell, the Israeli war
leader, Ariel Sharon, told the Palestinians to "come to your senses
now that your protector has gone". As if the Palestinian struggle
was dependent on Saddam or any other individual. This old colonial notion
that the Arabs are lost without a headman is being contested in Gaza and Baghdad. And were Saddam to drop dead tomorrow, the resistance
would increase rather than die down.
Sooner or later, all foreign troops will have to leave Iraq. If they do not do so voluntarily, they will be driven
out. Their continuing presence is a spur to violence. When Iraq's people regain control of their own destiny they
will decide the internal structures and the external policies of their
country. One can hope that this will combine democracy and social justice,
a formula that has set Latin America alight but is greatly resented by the Empire. Meanwhile,
Iraqis have one thing of which they can be proud and of which British and
US citizens should be envious: an opposition.
· Tariq Ali's new book, Bush in Babylon: the re-colonisation of Iraq, is published this week by Verso
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