The Iraqi Resistance: a New Phase


Soon after the Occupation, the United States and its allies–military and ideological–referred to the Iraqi resistance as ‘foreign elements’ ‘terrorists’ or ‘former loyalists of the Saddam regime’. This phraseology has now become redundant and US military spokesman are now referring to the guerrillas as ‘anti-Iraqi forces’ as if to suggest that the US, British, Spanish, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Italian, Japanese, South Korean and Polish troops represent Iraq but the Iraqis who resist the occupation are anti-Iraqi.

It’s a strange world.

When the lies utilised by Bush, Blair, Aznar and Berloscuni were publicly discredited as no weapons of mass destruction emerged, the propaganda units in all these countries and their favoured journalists changed their line and argued: ‘Well, perhaps there are no weapons, but we have got rid of a tyrant and have brought democracy to Iraq.’ Really? Democracy?

Leaving aside the several thousand Iraqi civilians who died and those who are still being killed, all talk of a meaningful democracy has faded. The old imperial ideologue Samuel Huntington now talks of the ‘democratic paradox’. What is this beast? When democracy does not deliver what the West wants it to deliver, it becomes a ‘paradox’. And for capitalist democracy today any challenge to the neo-liberal economic order is a paradox. The Iraqis who don’t like their health and education system being privatised are ‘living in the past’. The Iraqi traders who despise the corporations that entered the country after the Occupation are ‘backward elements’. When foreign businessmen are targeted Iraqis of all social classes (excepting the collaborators) rejoice. The foreign companies are perceived as a plague of locusts arriving to devour an occupied country.

Its obvious that if Iraq were ever permitted democracy, the elected representatives would insist on the removal of all Iraqi troops, Iraqi control of Iraqi oil and possibly a long-term peace treaty with Iran. None of this would serve imperial interests. And Henry Kissinger and other vultures are suggesting the Balkanisation of Iraq. Hence the talk of an impending civil war. Hence the provocation of blowing up the pilgrims at Kerbela (a crime denied by every group in Iraq). Neither the Sunni nor the Shia clerics or the secular forces of Sunni and Shia origin are talking in terms other than the unity of Iraq against the colonial occupier. Ayotollah Sistani has had meetings with Sunni leaders to stress his belief in a united country and in private he has insisted that the Iranian model of clerical rule would be a disaster for Iraq. Moqtada Al-Sadr speaks of liberating Iraq, not the Shia.

Over the last two weeks it has become clear that with the exception of the Kurdish leaders, the rest of the country is against the Occupation and wants to end it immediately. Within the Shia religious groups there is now an open struggle for the support of the masses in Southern Iraq. The decision by the Occupation to provoke the citizens of Fallujah (two days before the US mercenaries were attacked and brutally killed there had been a marine assault and civilians had died).

Why was al-Sadr’s newspaper banned by the Occupation? When words are disallowed, bombs replace them.

What we are witnessing in Iraq is the logic of a colonial occupation. Listen to the bells tolling in Fallujah and Basra They toll for those liberal and left-liberal journalists in Italy who denounced the resistance as ‘terrorists’ when Italian occupation personnel were targeted. They were there for ‘humanitarian’ purposes we were told. Well the mask is now off and the elected leader of the Italian people has said that Italians in Iraq will fight for Bush and die for Bush and kill for the Empire.

And in this situation, the Democratic Socialists voted for war credits in Parliament. Against the war, but for the Occupation? This desperation to be seen as a party of the Centre puts them on the right of the Spanish socialists. Quite happy to defeat Sergio Cofferati and disappear him, but reluctant to seriously challenge Berloscuni’s involvement in the war. And then the DS leaders are surprised when antiwar demonstrators express their anger and disillusion.

Meanwhile Iraq and its citizens continue to suffer. The poet Sinan Anton recently read a poem in Baghdad which evoked the current atmosphere:

The Euphrates
is a long procession
Cities pat its shoulders
as palm trees weep

The decision by al-Sadr and his supporters to join the resistance has brought hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets, posing a new challenge to the Occupation. Its no use for Westerners to shed hypocritical tears for Iraq or to complain that the Iraqi resistance does not meet the high stands of Western liberalism. Which resistance ever does?

When an Occupation is ugly, the resistance cannot be beautiful, except in a Hollywood movie or an Italian comedy. And if the religious parties dominate the South of Iraq it is partially due to the fact that the US and Britain have been supporting some of them with money and weapons for the last twelve years.

The solution according to many on the the Centre-Left is to hand over the country to the United Nations. This happened in 1924 when the British ruled Iraq via a League of Nations Mandate, which they had organised. The United States could easily get a similar mandate from the Security Council and thus hope they can keep their military bases in the country for another twenty years.

But what if this time-honoured solution to maintain control while pretending to the world that the locals are in charge of their own country does not work? Then back to the bombings and the collateral damage (civilian lives that do not matter to the West as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan)? Yes, a good liberal might argue, but isn’t the UN better than the US? Depends on who controls and determines what the UN does?

And who will that be?

For the citizens of countries whose governments and leaders have supported the war the priority must be to punish the warmongers, to follow the Spanish example. If Aznar is followed to Valhalla by Berloscuni, Blair and Bush it will be an important victory.

Then we will have to mount a campaign to demand that their successors end the Occupation. The only use of the UN could be as a face-saving device. Nothing else.

Originally published in Italian in il manifesto.

TARIQ ALI’s latest book, Bush in Babylon: The Re-colonisation of Iraq, is published by Verso. He can be reached at:


Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).