Much of the American left has been less than consistent with its approach to the occupation of Iraq. Before the invasion of March 2003, the streets of metropolitan America hosted a pageant of political dissent and indignation directed at the current administration. Yet in the post-invasion world the American left has been remarkably ambiguous and ambivalent. Whenever any one addresses this seeming inconsistency the rhetorical response is the same-“we” are there now so “we have to finish the job”-what “the job” is precisely always remains vague, however, it is intimately tied to Iraq’s security. Donald Rumsfeld on a recent trip to Iraq reiterated the administration line; namely that the US would supposedly leave Iraq when the Iraqis were capable of putting down the so-called “insurgency.” In other words, the reason the US invaded Iraq was WMD, but the reason they now remain is the resistance. And again the media have been as professionally contemptuous about examining American claims about the resistance as it was about weapons.
The media’s misrepresentation of the resistance in Iraq has been a central component to the Bush administrations ideology for occupation. As an occupying power the US has ostensibly claimed a duty to protect the Iraqi people from the insecurity that the US presence ironically induces. Notwithstanding the many criticisms we could make of the American media in this regard, what is most frustrating is that many on the so-called “left,” self-proclaimed critics of the war, have invested in the ideology of occupation.
I was recently involved in a public event at one of the more prestigious universities here in the US where one of the guests-who has spent considerable time in occupied Iraq and who is also another self-proclaimed critic-denounced the Iraqi resistance as an extreme and terrible bid on behalf of “Wahhabists and former Baathists.” When I asked the guest how much time he had actually spent with members of the resistance he could not provide me any substantive experience. In other words his intelligence on violence in Iraq was being provided by the same source that initiated the occupation in the first place-the US administration. It is both ironic and comical that little has been done to substantiate the claims being put forth by the American administration in this regard; but most notably there can be no serious hope of the Americans leaving Iraq so long as the majority of the country “fears” what might happen there next. And the administration’s presentation of the resistance as a band of wide-eyed fanatics or desperate men “with nothing to lose” has been employed, quite tactfully, to keep up as much American support for the occupation as Iraqi. What I wish to do here is provide a brief anatomy of the resistance-a description of what it is made of and what it hopes to accomplish.
First the Iraqi resistance is made up of both political and martial forces, thus all of the major resistance groups in the country are tied to a greater political framework that has been clear and consistent in its hopes for the country. What is more important, however, is that the methods and goals of the resistance have always been made public. There has been no major Iraqi resistance group that has condoned the targeting of innocents in the country, none. Conveniently the US only invokes public claims to the contrary when they are made on websites to which the authors are unavailable for comment, verification or elaboration. The political members of the Iraqi resistance have been constantly available to the media as spokespersons of the armed effort, yet no western media source has inquired as to their feelings or analysis of what is happening in their country. The media’s insistence in relying on the official American version of events precludes other available sources that are actually tied to the resistance itself. There are only three things we can assume in this regard a) the American press is complicit in the occupation, b) it is simply incompetent or c) it is racist, assuming that an Arab is not a good source for information (it could be all of the above of course). Needless to say this characterization is not conducive to a reliable flow of information. In terms of public and verifiable evidence it must be conceded, emphatically no less, that there simply has been no tangible occurrence of an Iraqi resistance group publicly condoning the targeting of civilians.
Secondly, the Iraqi resistance has been vibrant in organizing itself politically not only inside Iraq but outside as well. I will mention two events in this regard: the meeting of the Higher Committee for National Forces Rejecting the Occupation and the 16th Arab National Congress held in Algiers. With the former there was even greater consolidation amongst Iraqi resistance groups; the implication of course is that a national liberation front is beginning to emerge that possesses a mandate and doctrine. Few, if any journalists have concerned themselves with the ideas or political ambitions of such an alliance.
The Higher Committee is, however, dedicated to several major things:
a) the right of the Iraqis to defend themselves against foreign aggression and imperialism,
b) the right of Iraq to demand a political process untainted by occupation and that reflects the uninhibited will of the Iraqi people and
c) a pluralistic and democratic Iraq.
Needless to say the Higher Committee is a variegated and diverse membership and emphasizes Iraq’s diversity-which never was an issue in the country until the Americans arrived. There are several things to which the Committee is adamantly opposed to as well:
a) the continued occupation of Iraq and the establishment of any permanent basis in the country,
b) the privatization of the Iraqi economy and foreign corporations’ unrestricted access to Iraq’s resources and business community and
c) the federation of Iraq.
This last point may strike some as contentious; however, it is crucial to what is felt to be the neo-colonial ambitions of the US in the Middle-East. Federalism in Iraq means an even deeper breakdown of the region into semi-disparate groups that will be encouraged to “arm themselves” against their neighbors; all the while the US presence in the region is perpetuated by the “need to maintain stability.”
The reason I have laid out some of these more central features is not to convince anyone to adopt them, but rather to demonstrate the political context in which the resistance is thinking and to suggest that moral support from around the world should be more forthcoming. Furthermore, unlike US evidence which refers to phantoms and their websites, individuals that no one has access to or ever see in Iraq, members of the Association of Muslim Scholars or the People’s Struggle Movement, amongst others, are available for comment or elaboration and can provide definitive accounts of the Iraqi resistance, its nature and goals. In addition all such groups have adamantly condemned the targeting of Iraqi civilians, after all, why would they not, they are Iraqis. What has been most disturbing has been the ease by which westerners have attributed the most draconian and cruel features to the Iraqi resistance while absolving the US of any duplicity in their occupation. The administration’s insistence that the Iraqis (or other “foreign” Arabs) are trying to start a civil war within their own country has never been supported by any logical analysis. Meanwhile it remains true that so long as there is chaos in Iraq the Americans must remain to insure “security.”
Just as much of the world regrets investing too heavily in the Bush administration’s cries of WMD, so long as the occupation continues there should also be a greater scrutiny of the US’s reasons for remaining there. Several things are clear: The United States invasion of Iraq was illegal, immoral, unjustified and destructive. With that in mind it would be insidious to future relations with Iraq and the Arab-Muslim world in general if people in the west are going to deny the right of Iraqis to defend themselves. Secondly, many of the acts of destruction that have been connected to the “insurgency” have found no resonance with the major groups of the Iraqi resistance; in addition there is a broad based political platform that is available to the wider world and which can be reached in this regard. The organized Iraqi resistance has been adamant about its principles and methods but has yet to receive the necessary attention from those in the west who are likewise committed to justice and ending the illegal occupation of Iraq.
Unfortunately the American press has chosen to ignore the organized opposition forces in Iraq and has focused rather on the abundance of petty crime and faceless websites now conflagrating Baghdad and misidentified that as the resistance. For a variety of reasons most of the Left has also invested too heavily in the myth that the resistance is an irrational menace-made up of “former Baathists and Wahhabists.” As political observers the strange conclusion we must draw from this characterization is that there is no resistance to the actual American occupation; there is rather an “insurgency” against a supposedly free and democratically elected government. The occupation’s significance has been audaciously negated within intellectual circles to an unbearable degree and much more rhetorical capital has been invested in the relations between “Sunni and Shi’a” or “Arab and Kurd.” The question we must ask ourselves is what happened to the illegitimacy of the occupation and the legitimate right to oppose it?
LAITH AL-SAUD is a college lecturer in the social sciences and a member of the People’s Struggle Movement-an organization politically opposed to the occupation of Iraq.