Iraq: The Resistance Deepens

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Contrary to Bush and Blair's familiar response to any attack on US or British forces as the work of 'Saddam loyalists' or 'foreign terrorists', it is clear that the resistance in Iraq has gained momentum, and that the Iraqi people have increasingly come to see themselves as subject to a colonial occupation.

At the end of September the US administrator, Paul Bremer, announced that the US-appointed governing council was planning sweeping reforms to enable foreign companies to take over Iraqi assets without prior approval. This move provided for 100 percent foreign ownership in all sectors except (for now) oil. As Kamil Mahdi wrote in the Guardian on 26 November, Iraqis were united in opposition to this law, since it confirmed their colonial status. Moreover, the funds provided for reconstruction will largely benefit US firms. In addition, foreign corporations are to be allowed to repatriate all profits, dividends, interest and royalties to the host country. Trade tariffs are to be slashed and corporate taxes capped at 15 percent.

The vast majority of Iraqis see the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) as a colonial government and the CPA-appointed governing council as its stooge. The scale of the resistance has forced Bush to expedite plans for elections but with the US army continuing to occupy the country indefinitely. However, any government 'elected' by Iraqis under the tutelage of the US army will undoubtedly be similarly perceived.

Numerous reports have emphasised the degree to which the resistance has been gaining increasing popular support. It's not hard to see why. Stories abound of the heavy-handed tactics of occupying troops, of the mindless violence on the part of nervous, trigger-happy soldiers, of the brutal collective punishments meted out to ordinary Iraqis who refuse to cooperate, of the insensitivity of the occupiers towards women and children.

Zaki Chehab, a Lebanese journalist, described in the Guardian on 13 October how a young Iraqi was shot dead in Ramadi, north of Baghdad, after failing to stop at a checkpoint, although no warning was given.

In the Observer of 9 November, Patrick Graham quoted a member of the Albueisi tribe in central Iraq lamenting the deaths of ten of its members at the hands of US troops, including a two year old girl: 'After the Americans are attacked, they shoot everywhere.' In nearby Fallujah, at least 40 civilians and police have been killed since April. Patrick Cockburn described in the Independent on 13 October how US soldiers drove bulldozers into ancient groves to uproot the fruit trees on which local tribespeople depend for their livelihood. Why? Because they failed to provide information about the local resistance.

Massive unemployment, insecurity, power cuts and petrol queues have also acted as efficient recruiting-sergeants for the resistance. In addition, the US army has recently launched a new, tough counterinsurgency campaign, attacking bomb-making factories, weapons warehouses, guerrilla meeting-places and insurgents' homes - causing considerable 'collateral damage'.

What emerges from the various reports is the variety of groups: while there are some Ba'athist elements, particularly in the 'Sunni triangle' north of Baghdad, the resistance is made up largely by nationalists and Islamic groups appalled at the occupation of their country. Other elements include disgruntled discharged army officers, street gangs, and ordinary people whose relatives have been killed by their 'liberators'.

However, according to the Observer on 2 November, a sharp dispute has emerged between the US and British intelligence services as to the character of the resistance. According to Pentagon officials, it consists of a unified, hierarchical organisation led by former Ba'athist officials, with Saddam Hussein at the head, and allied to groups of foreign 'holy warriors', including Al Qaida. But British intelligence has a different picture: 'many different groups with different agendas... locally organised... with loyalty focused on middle-ranking former commanders'. This picture is one of a loose network of partisan-type groups without a central command.

The US is now responding to the growth of the resistance movement with the strategy of 'Iraqification'. According to Sami Ramadani in The World Today, this means expanding the powers of those Iraqis selected by Paul Bremer, the US administrator. The 'occupation authorites have been recruiting Saddam's leading security men to suppress the rising tide of resistance'. As Sami Ramadani says elsewhere, this portends the reconstruction by the US of a new Saddamist regime, only this time without Saddam himself, recreating the alliance of the 1970s and 1980s, only now with the US in charge, even if indirectly through a puppet regime.

The shadow of Vietnam increasingly darkens the Iraqi landscape.