"Illegal Militias" and "Saddam Loyalists" are Your Friends


In an effort to deny the Iraqi resistance to the US occupation any legitimacy whatsoever, George Bush had this to say about it last week in his primetime speech outlining the plan for the “transfer of sovereignty”:

“The swift removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime last spring had an unintended affect. Instead of being killed or captured on the battlefield, some of Saddam’s elite guards shed their uniforms and melted into the civilian population.

“These elements of Saddam’s repressive regime and secret police have reorganized, rearmed and adopted sophisticated terrorist tactics. They’ve linked up with foreign fighters and terrorists. In a few cities, extremists have tried to sow chaos and seize regional power for themselves.”

He continued:

“Coalition forces and the Iraqi people have the same enemies: the terrorists, illegal militia and Saddam loyalists who stand between the Iraqi people and their future as a free nation. Working as allies, we will defend Iraq and defeat these enemies.

“America will provide forces and support necessary for achieving these goals.”

If we were to assume that Bush really means what he says, we’d have to come to the conclusion that he either pays absolutely no attention to events in Iraq, or that he’s living on a separate planet from the rest of us. After all, being told that the problem is “Saddam’s elite guards” and “foreign fighters and terrorists” is at odds with virtually every headline concerning the Iraqi resistance for the past several weeks, which almost unanimously deal with the indigenous Shiite (read: anti-Baathist) rebellion of followers of Moqtada al-Sadr. Beyond that, much of the investigative reporting shows the fierce Sunni resistance that exists in places like Fallujah to be primarily native and from the grassroots, having little to do with nostalgia for Saddam and much to do with anger at the occupation.

To be sure, resistance is coming from “Baathist remnants” as well, and there are surely a few “foreign terrorists” in Iraq now, but Bush’s self-serving fairy tale is just a way for him to obscure the central reality in Iraq: mass opposition and resistance amongst Iraqis to a brutal, illegal occupation that they hate. By pretending that the resistance is marginal, foreign, and unpopular, he can make the US look like the good guy just trying to bring freedom and stability. Telling the truth, however, means exposure. The reality of a popular resistance for independence encompassing Sunnis and Shiites doesn’t mesh to well with the good-versus-evil “War on Terror” narrative.

But just for the heck of it, let’s take Bush at his word and look further into his explanations.

Concerning the “illegal militia who stand between the Iraqi people and their future as a free nation”, there are two relevant observations to make based on recent information in the press that put Bush’s grasp on the situation into question (let alone his honesty and integrity).

Bush’s explanation rides on the notion that the militias are the bandits and it is, in fact, the occupation that is bringing freedom and democracy. However, the Financial Times recently reported on a very credible poll whose results show that not only is the occupation hugely unpopular, but that one of Bush’s enemies of freedom, the Shiite cleric Al-Sadr, is gaining a “surge in popularity”.

The article says:

“An Iraqi poll to be released next week shows a surge in the popularity of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical young Shia cleric fighting coalition forces, and suggests nearly nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers and not liberators or peacekeepers.”

It goes on to tell us that “the poll was conducted by the one-year-old Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, which is considered reliable enough for the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority to have submitted questions to be included in the study.” Apparently Bush forgot to tell us that the occupation-for-democracy seems to have less support from Iraqis than the “illegal militia”.

Whether or not the “illegal militia” of Al-Sadr is more responsive to the actual sentiment of the Iraqi people, the militia is indeed illegal according to US-imposed law, and it is a big obstacle towards achieving the Occupation’s professed goal of American-imagined freedom, democracy, and stability. Because Bush made this all clear enough in his speech, it was surprising to find an article in the New York Times the following morning entitled “Failing to Disband Militias, U.S. Moves to Accept Them”.

Despite Bush’s freedom-ringing words, apparently:

“[W]ith the sharp deterioration of the security situation in recent months, American officials appear to have resigned themselves to working with militias in Falluja, Baghdad and elsewhere even as American soldiers die fighting them in street battles in Karbala and Najaf.

“As that date approaches, the Americans are quietly allowing some of these armed groups to flourish and, in some cases, have even helped recreate them.”

While the article also refers to illegal militias other than Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, it is unambiguous about the latter:

“Even fighters in the Mahdi Army of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whom American soldiers have been killing in large numbers in recent weeks, may be given a chance for legitimacy. In a recent news conference, the general commanding American forces in Najaf and Karbala said he would be willing to consider taking Mahdi Army militiamen into a new Iraqi security force being set up to help secure southern Iraq.”

With the level of deceit shown by the Bush administration, perhaps it’s not unexpected to see it (and it is hard to believe that the General would’ve made such a statement if it wasn’t in line with policy from higher-up) denounce the militias as the enemies while simultaneously trying to accommodate them. This behavior is in good continuity with his habit, say, of invoking Saddam’s brutal atrocities against his own people while failing to mention that the US, and most of his own current administration, willfully supported this. Apparently there is now even talk of trying to integrate al-Sadr into the new short-term government. If Bush is serious about “staying the course”, perhaps he should first make up his mind over whether al-Sadr needs to be killed or cooperated with. Of course, he would never tell the American people about the latter option straight-out, since it would undermine all his hitherto rhetoric.

We see the same kind of hypocrisy with the “Baathist remnants”. While Bush puts blame for the instability in Iraq on these bogeymen, the occupation is simultaneously pursuing a policy of ‘re-Baathification’, as Wolf Blitzer put it a recent piece from CNN. It goes on:

“The remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime know they have no future in a free Iraq,” U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday, restating the U.S. stance even as coalition officials in Baghdad confirmed that some of Saddam’s former Baath Party loyalists may be allowed to take back their old jobs.”

Another article explains:

“Facing its greatest military challenge in Iraq since President Bush declared the end of major combat a year ago, the United States is turning to a once-unthinkable source for help: commanders from Saddam Hussein’s defunct army.

“Just weeks ago they were lumped with “dead-enders” and “former regime elements” unfit to serve in the new Iraq. But today ex-officers are shaking hands with U.S. military and civilian officials and are leading a test case for a newly democratic–and pragmatic–approach to rebuilding the country.”

The Shiite majority, presumably the majority group to be liberated from Baathist terror, naturally feels a bit uneasy about this situation:

“A senior leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq sharply criticized the American decision to gather former Republican Guard soldiers into a “security force” in Falluja.

“”Of course we are not happy–they are Republican Guards, with the same uniforms, the same mustaches,” said Adel Abdel Mehdi, the group’s leader.”

My central point here isn’t to make a judgment on Bush’s assessment of the militias or supposed Baathist remnants. It is simply to point out the lies and contradictions that drip from all the mantras he constantly invokes. He must lie and deceive because the truth delegitimizes his justifications for the war and calls into question his self-proclaimed credentials as some sort of spokesperson for world freedom and justice. He is leading an occupation for “freedom” and “democracy” that the Iraqi people oppose; he is in cahoots with the very elements he denounces as enemies of freedom. Of course, to tell this to the American people would be unthinkable.

DEREK SEIDMAN, 24, is co-editor of Left Hook (www.lefthook.org) and lives in New York City. He can be reached at derekseidman@yahoo.com.

Derek Seidman is a writer and researcher who lives in Buffalo, New York.