War and Resistance: Summer of Discontent

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Anne Ashford charts the resistance to the occupation of Iraq.

'Is the price, in blood and money, too high?' asked the Economist recently. With the occupation costing $1 billion a week, the UN suffering a devastating attack and 'postwar' casualty figures rising rapidly, some US officials may privately agree. In public, however, Iraqi resistance is the work of 'remnants' of the Ba'ath Party.

Paul Bremer, the US-appointed administrator of Iraq, told reporters that in addition to Ba'ath loyalists, supporters of Osama Bin Laden are the main forces resisting the occupation.

Bremer's analysis doesn't add up. Resistance encompasses more than occasional pot shots at soldiers, and stretches far beyond a network of Sunni militants. In late August US casualties for the 'postwar' period overtook the number killed during the war.

Since the fall of Baghdad the fax machines of Arab satellite channels have been humming with statements from newly launched guerrilla units. The Resistance and Liberation Command, Saddam's Knights, the Army of Mohammed and the Black Banner Organisation have all made an appearance in recent weeks. Some are loyal to Saddam Hussein, some oppose the old Ba'ath regime, while others have taken up arms in response to the casual brutality of the occupying powers.

US raids on residential areas are killing dozens of civilians, such as the five members of one family shot dead when their car blundered into a military checkpoint in western Baghdad on 27 July. 'Apologies are not something we have within military processes,' said Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, when asked if the army would pay compensation.

Military resistance is only part of the picture. Political parties excluded from the US-appointed governing council, supporters of dissident Shi'a clerics, unemployed soldiers and sacked journalists have taken part in dozens of separate protests. Thousands of ordinary, desperate people have come out day after day to demonstrate against power cuts, water shortages and unemployment.

Muqtada al-Sadr, a Najaf-based radical Shi'a leader, has been able to mobilise thousands for regular protests against the occupation. He is the son of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, one of Iraq's most revered Shi'a leaders, murdered by Saddam Hussein in 1999. Through an alliance with Kazim al-Ha'iri, an Iraqi ayatollah living in Iran, Muqtada al-Sadr emerged as a contender for political leadership of the Shi'a movement. Unlike the leaders of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), who have joined the US-appointed governing council, Muqtada al-Sadr preaches complete rejection of the occupation. In late July he formed 'the Army of the Mahdi', a militia opposed to the occupation and the governing council. After US forces were reported to have surrounded his house on 27 July, thousands of his followers took to the streets in protest.

It is probably the everyday acts of resistance by ordinary people which have the greatest power to undermine the occupation. Basra on 9 and 10 August was a fairly typical example. Faced with fuel price hikes and constant electricity cuts, more than 1,000 local people stoned British forces, after spontaneous protests broke out at several petrol stations around the city.

The attacks on US and British forces, combined with ongoing street protests, appear to be delaying the scramble to profit from the privatisation of Iraq. Although some of the biggest winners of USaid and US army contracts have already begun operations, security is tight, and attacks on foreign workers are common. EPCGlobal, an engineering firm, warned in a report released in early August that companies using non-Iraqi staff would face 'active resistance' from Iraqis. A Kuwaiti firm caused large-scale riots when it tried to bring in foreign workers. 'The newly free Iraqi population are exercising their right to free speech with great gusto when it comes to attempts to hire external labour,' reported the company.

Trained to think that only force can answer the defiance of the conquered, US and British soldiers kill Iraqi demonstrators. Attacks on the occupying forces send them charging through Iraqi homes looking for 'terrorists'. Desperate to prove that only the free market can rebuild Iraq's shattered economy, the US government is bringing in the multinationals to loot what remains of the country's natural wealth. Iraqis do not need Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden to tell them to resist.

  • 29 July
    Up to 1,000 members of the Union of Unemployed People demonstrate outside the Republican Palace in Baghdad. The union's president, Ghasam Haadi, was arrested by US forces.

  • 1 August
    Around 2,000 demonstrate in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala to demand an apology from US forces for attacking an earlier protest.

  • 2 August
    'Tens of thousands' protest in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah against the detention of Mamosta Ali Bapir, a Kurdish Islamist leader.

  • 3 August
    Journalists from the Baghdad-based weekly Al-Mustaqillah demonstrate against the paper's closure by US forces.

  • 4 August
    Scores of demonstrators take to the streets in Al-Khalidiyah, west of Baghdad, to protest at US search operations.

  • 9-10 August
    More than 1,000 take to the streets of Basra to protest at fuel price rises and constant electricity cuts.

  • 11 August
    Hundreds of heavily armed former intelligence and security personnel demonstrate in Ba'qubah demanding payment of their wages.

  • 11 August
    Kuwait shuts its border for five hours after rioting breaks out in the Iraqi town of Safwan following a protest over shortages of food and water.