The Iraqi resistance will continue to grow
"It's always better for dictators or the Iranian clerics to be removed by their own people. Then the change remains organic. To be removed by outside forces has given Saddam Hussein new life. His popularity is rising. He didn't flee. However much Iraqis may dislike him, they do respect him now."
-- Tariq Ali, born in Lahore, Pakistan, is an internationally renowned writer based in London where he is the editor of New Left Review. He is a prolific writer, the author of more than a dozen books on politics and world history, including, most recently, The Clash of Fundamentalisms and Bush in Babylon
The December 13 capture of Saddam Hussein is being portrayed as a major coup for the Bush administration. As reporters commented on the administration's concern to avoid "gloating," humiliating images of a disheveled, bearded Saddam being picked over by a man with rubber gloves were flashed all over the world-as if the U.S. had caught a wild animal. Like the capture of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989, this is the case of an imperial power capturing one of its former clients-a man who in the 1980s had been part of the U.S. plan to "to strengthen regional stability." Saddam only became public enemy number one when he decided to gain control of a portion of Kuwaiti oil to pay back Iraq's debts incurred during its war with Iran. The U.S. then made the Iraqi people pay-with their lives through over a decade of military assaults and sanctions-for Saddam's impudence.
None of the commentators have yet caught the irony of the fact that the U.S. will now put on trial a man it tried to illegally assassinate with a "surgical" missile strike in the first day of the invasion.
But the biggest question it raises is: What excuses now can be offered for the occupation? The Bush administration has gone through the gamut of reasons to justify it-from the Iraqi regime's alleged links to al-Qaeda to stopping Iraq's imminent deployment of weapons of mass destruction to, finally, the liberation of Iraq from tyranny. Every reason has been systemically discredited, and now Saddam is captured. Time to pull up stakes and leave, no? It is now irrefutable that the purpose of the war had nothing to do with these cover stories. The purpose of the invasion was to occupy Iraq, seize its oil wealth, open up the rest of the economy to U.S. corporate dominance and set up Iraq as a military staging ground for bullying the rest of the Middle East.
As a public relations event, Saddam's capture is significant. But it is extremely doubtful that it will weaken the resistance, and the Iraqi resistance (and the growing demoralization of U.S. troops it is engendering) is what has been driving the political crisis of the Bush administration over the past months. In the end, Saddam's arrest may end up being as much of a turkey as Bush's secret Thanksgiving visit to Iraq.
That is because the resistance does not depend upon Saddam Hussein but on the fact that Iraq is under a colonial occupation. And that occupation is becoming increasingly brutish and nasty. The Financial Times noted correctly that "the capture of Mr. Hussein alone is unlikely to contain the escalating frustrations directed solely at the U.S." And they quote Toby Dodge, author of the new book Inventing Iraq, who observes that "Saddam's time and money have been spent running and hiding not killing U.S. troops. So his death may not have much effect." If anything, Iraqis may feel freer to oppose the occupation they loathe without fear of a restoration of Baathist rule.
With the clock steadily ticking toward election 2004, Bush is concerned to make Iraq appear stable. This has led to a massive escalation of military repression-starting in late November with Operation Iron Hammer-combined with efforts to provide an "exit strategy" in which power will be transferred, in name only, to a new U.S.-approved Iraqi government, and newly-trained Iraqis will begin replacing some American patrols. The new "rulers" of Iraq will then dutifully "request" that the U.S. remain in Iraq. " Our presence here will change from an occupation to an invited presence," remarked proconsul L. Paul Bremer.
THE BEST-LAID PLANS
But the best-laid plans have a way of going awry. And what's more, cosmetic changes can't hide reality. Bremer will still rule. Moreover, the "Iraqification" of the occupation has already shown severe weaknesses. According to the Chicago Tribune, "The first battalion of the Iraqi army has lost more than a third of its soldiers-239 of its original 694."
The British Guardian has reported that "Israeli advisers are helping train U.S. special forces in aggressive counter-insurgency operations in Iraq." Along with stepped up military sweeps have come new policies consciously modeled on the tactics used by the Israeli military against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. U.S. troops have been destroying the homes owned by the families of suspected resistance supporters-as well as imprisoning family members-and bulldozing crops of farmers who are accused of aiding guerrillas. U.S. troops have also begun setting up barbed wire and checkpoints around some towns, requiring inhabitants to flash special IDs (written in English only!) to come and go. These tactics have aroused deep resentment and widespread resistance by the Palestinians and will no doubt incur the same reaction among Iraqis.
Alongside the brutality of the occupation, the economy remains in shambles. Unemployment may be as high as 70 percent, inflation is rampant, electricity is still off and on and there is a shortage of cooking gas. There is also little evidence yet of much reconstruction. And things aren't likely to get better for most Iraqis, even as the country slowly recovers. The U.S. plans to privatize and sell off to U.S. corporations everything that can't be nailed down in Iraq, and also some things that can. Even Iraq's health care system, which before sanctions was considered the best in the Middle East, is going to be privatized. According to Tariq Ali, the "minister for health" in Iraq's puppet government recently touted Iraq's future creation of a "two-tier health system" in Iraq.
The blatant rip-off of the Iraqi people and U.S. taxpayers became clear when it was revealed in early December that Halliburton, the firm that Vice President Dick Cheney once piloted, has overcharged the U.S. government by as much as $120 million for work in Iraq. Sixty million dollars of the overcharge comes from Halliburton selling oil at $2.64 a gallon, when the normal price in the region is $0.71. Bush had to promise to investigate. Yet the whole occupation is clearly seen by Bush and his cronies as a massive gravy train.
Bush announced that the spoils of Iraq-lucrative contracts-would not go to Germany, France or Russia as punishment for not sufficiently backing the invasion. One day later, he sent former Secretary of State James Baker to Europe to plead for the easing of Iraq's $120 billion national debt, several billion of it which is owed to France, Germany and Russia. This can be seen as both a punitive move and an effort to dangle the economic carrot of debt repayment and promises of contracts to European capital if the latter decides to ante up troops and ease the pressure on U.S. forces.
The sense among ordinary Iraqis is that conditions have only worsened under the occupation since Saddam's era, that the U.S. increasingly enforces its rule through brute military force and that its economic policy amounts to nothing more than imperial freebooting. This might fuel further resistance, and in turn lead to further repression by the U.S., which would then increase the ranks of the national resistance, and so on in a circle which the U.S. would be unlikely to break.
Mohammad Saleh, a building contractor, captured the sense of outrage Iraqis feel toward the U.S. "The Americans promised freedom and prosperity,"he said.
"Go up to their headquarters, at one of those checkpoints where they point their guns at you, and tell them that you hate them as much as Saddam, and see what they do to you. The only difference is that Saddam would kill you in private, where the Americans will kill you in public."
As Tariq Ali notes, the Iraqi people "are not prepared to accept" what the U.S. is "imposing on them." He continued:
"This is how resistance begins and this resistance does not just shape the consciousness in the occupied country but also shapes the consciousness of people in the country from where the occupiers come. That is why occupying empires endlessly provokes a resistance and finally this resistance has an impact inside the empire itself. It's the history of all empires and the United States is not immune from it."
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