Resistance and Empire in Iraq
By Tariq Ali
[This article originally published in: Suddeutsche Zeitung, November 5, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/52/feuilleton/red-artikel3771.
Tariq Ali's new book "Bush in Babylon. Diederich will publish the Re-Colonization of Iraq".]
Recently Pentagon workers were invited to a presentation of an old feature film. "The Battle of Algiers", Gillo Pontecorvos' anti-colonialism classic originally banned in France, was shown. The film should serve as a lesson. France won the battle but lost the war.
That resistance in Iraq follows a well-known anti-colonialist pattern is clear to the Pentagon. Actions perpetrated by Algerian Maquis nearly a half century ago were striking in the film. The same scenes could have been shot last week in the streets of Falludscha or the alleys of Baghdad. Then and today the occupying power described all these activities as "terrorism". Then and today people were taken prisoner and houses destroyed that offered protection to the activists or their relatives. The reprisals constantly increased. At the end France had to withdraw from Algeria.
A debate has started in the US since the number of post-war American casualties surpasses the number of victims during the invasion (in which at least 15,000 Iraqis were killed).
Despite all the efforts, no significant rebuilding has occurred in Iraq. Mass unemployment prevails in the country. Poverty and misery mark the everyday life for many since the occupiers and their helpers are unable to supply electricity and clean water. Little is entrusted to the Iraqis. Asian and Philippine foreign workers are recruited to clean the Iraqi barracks. American corporations and "friendly" allies are preferred in awarding contracts. Even under the most favorable circumstances, an occupied Iraq could develop into an oligarchy with cronyism or nepotism where firms like the US corporations Bechtel and Halliburton are the superior global players.
A combination of all this fans the resistance in Iraq and encourages many young men to be fighters for their country. Hardly anyone in Iraq will reveal the resistance fighters. This is a crucial point since a sustained resistance is practically impossible without the population's silent support. These Iraqi partisans worsen Bush's position in his own country. They help the democrats in America to attack their government. Howard Dean even went so far to propose a complete withdrawal of the United States within two years.
Gaza and Guantanamo
The disaster in Iraq has averted more war adventures in Iran and Syria. One amusing moment of the last months occurred when US assistant secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz said at one of his press conferences in Baghdad that the main dangers in Iraq were the many foreigners. Strangely only a few of the western journalists there broke out in laughter. From the view of many Iraqis, the true "foreign terrorists" are the armies of the occupiers. Why is this? Because one inevitably falls into the role of a colonial power in occupying a country. If resistance occurs, a mixture of Gaza strip and Guantanamo Bay is the only possibility.
Countries that belong to the occupiers of Iraq should not judge about conditions of Iraqi resistance. The occupation of Iraq is abominable. The reaction was faint. Over forty different large and small resistance groups have formed in Iraq. They consist of followers of the Baath party or communist deviationists whom the official communist party of Iraq abhors on account of their support of the occupiers. This support is regarded as treason. In addition there are nationalists from groups of scattered Iraqi soldiers and officers as well as from small religious splinter groups of Sunnite and Shiite origin. The Iraqi poets Saadi Youssef and Mudhaffarf al-Nawab once brutally persecuted by Saddam are regarded as the conscience of the nation. With their raging furious poems, they condemn the occupation of Iraq and hurl words of contempt against the collaborators.
"I will spit in the faces of the collaborators. /
I will spit on their lists. / I declare, we are the Iraqi people. / We are the family tree of this country/ proud under our modest bamboo roof."
"And never trust a freedom fighter,/
who appears without weapons,/ Believe me, I was burnt in this crematorium./
The truth is, you are only as great as your cannons./ Those with nothing but knives and pitchforks/ only have their stomachs in mind."
Present resistance is not centrally organized. This is the first stage of the guerilla struggle against an occupying power. Whether these groups will pass over to the next stage one day and establish a national Iraqi liberation front is unclear.
The idea of the United Nations as an "honest broker" no longer occurs to most Iraqis. The UN is regarded as part of the problem. Apart from the UN history as an administrator of sanctions and supporter of Anglo-American bomb attacks against Iraq for twelve years, the resolution of the Security Council on October 16, 2003 discredited the Un again. The resolution welcomes the "positive reaction of the international community to the establishment of a provisional governing council in Baghdad representing the broad sectors of the Iraqi population".
The charming deceiver Achmed Tschalabi was offered a position as a representative of Iraq at the United Nations. The United States and Great Britain forced Pol Pot to leave his post at the UN after his overthrow by the Vietnamese... Not accidentally, many in the southern hemisphere and elsewhere in the world equate the UN with the US.
The Middle East is a scene of two foreign occupations: in the Palestinian areas occupied by Israelis (with the cooperation of the US) and in Iraq. Initially the Palestinians were demoralized by Baghdad's fall. However the development of the Iraqi resistance gave them new courage. After Baghdad's conquest, the Israeli prime minister called the Palestinians "to come to reason now since your protector has disappeared" - as though the struggle of the Palestinians depended on a dictator like Saddam or some other person. The old colonial notion that Arabs are lost without leaders is weakened in Gaza and Baghdad. If Saddam Hussein were a dead man tomorrow, the resistance against American presumption would increase rather than disappear.
What about the future? Sooner or later, all foreign troops must leave Iraq. If they don't leave voluntarily, they will be forced to leave. Their continuous presence (and the corporations following them) gives constant stimulus to violence. As soon as the Iraqi population itself can determine its affairs, it will decide over the inner structures and foreign policy of the country. Despite all dangers of chaos and collapse, hope for democracy and social justice remains in this country - a passion whose fire has seized all Latin America. Unlike in Saddam's times, the Iraqis have something today about which they can be proud beyond all bloody conflicts: a genuine opposition.