IS THERE A "THIRD ALTERNATIVE" IN IRAQ?

by Bill Weinberg

Iraq's elections--held in defiance of threats from guerillas against voters
and authorities alike--have predictably been hailed as a victory for
democracy. "The people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is
hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East," said U.S.
President George Bush as the votes came in Jan. 30.

The results tell a different story. Iraqis voted almost perfectly along
ethnic and religious lines. Nearly 50% of the vote went to an openly
Islamist Shi'ite bloc backed by Ayatollah al-Sistani, inappropriately named
the United Iraqi Alliance; 25% went to an alliance of the two major Kurdish
parties; and 15% went to the officially secular grouping of interim Prime
Minister Iyad Allawi--who now rules with authoritarian emergency powers.
This nominally secular slate is dominated by Allawi, himself a former
Ba'athist who (ironically enough) led a CIA-backed resistance group against
Saddam Hussein in the 1990s that apparently used terrorist tactics like car
bombs, according to a New York Times report last June 9. The Sunni Muslims
of central Iraq, traditionally the dominant group in the country,
overwhelmingly boycotted the elections. By any objective analysis, this
would appear less a victory for democracy than a harbinger of civil war.

The elections--for anonymous slates, not actual candidates, now still
negotiating a new government coalition--were held against the backdrop of
nearly daily suicide bombings, incessant guerilla warfare and a
fast-deteriorating human rights situation. They were also held under U.S.
occupation. If the occupation is de facto rather than de jure since last
June's transfer to official Iraqi "sovereignty," it is irrelevant. U.S.
troop levels in Iraq were boosted to around 150,000 ahead of the election,
up from 123,000 a year ago. They are supported by some 26,000 more
coalition troops. This is also an increase from May 2003, when Bush
initially declared "victory" in Iraq. Then the U.S. had 135,000 troops in
Iraq, and officially planned to reduce that number by over 100,000 over the
next four months.

The U.S. military's detention centers in Iraq have swelled to capacity and
are holding more people than ever, the New York Times reported March
4--partially as a result of pre-election sweeps, and the suspension of all
releases ahead of the vote. The Times reported the military is holding at
least 8,900 detainees in the three major prisons, 1,000 more than in late
January. Abu Ghraib prison--which has become more notorious for torture
under the U.S. than it was under Saddam--now holds 3,160. This is well above
the 2,500 level considered "ideal," admitted Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a
spokesman for the detainee system. The largest center, Camp Bucca in the
south, holds at least 5,640. "We're very close to capacity now," Col.
Johnson said.

The U.S. State Department's annual "Country Reports on Human Rights,"
released March 1, had this to say about Iraq: "There were reports of
arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison
conditions--particularly in pretrial detention facilities--and arbitrary
arrest and detention. There remained unresolved problems relating to the
large number of internally displaced persons... Corruption at all levels of
the government remained a problem... The exercise of labor rights remained
limited..."

Jihad Against the Robots

A month after the election, the death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq topped
1,500. The UK has lost 86 more soldiers. Iraqi dead are not officially
counted, but estimates range from 10,000 to 100,000--although the higher
estimates include casualties of violence by resistance as well as
occupation forces.

However, if the occupation goes on long enough, live troops may
increasingly be phased out in favor of robots. A front-page New York Times
story reported Feb. 16: "The Pentagon predicts that robots will be a major
fighting force in the American military in less than a decade, hunting and
killing enemies in combat. Robots are a crucial part of the Army's effort
to rebuild itself as a 21st-century fighting force, and a $127 billion
project called Future Combat Systems is the biggest military contract in
American history."

This latest escalation beyond the remote-controlled mass murder of "shock &
awe" technology is the perfect metaphor for new order of technocratic
sterility the U.S. seeks to impose--mechanized ultra-imperialism with ever
less human face. Unlike the armies of Hulagu Khan and Timor Leng which
sacked Baghdad in medieval times, this new invader claims to act in the
name of democracy, modernity, stability and free markerts. But behind these
phrases lie austerity regimes, the imposition of economic misery by
bureaucratic fiat, the still-greater exclusion of the many from national
wealth, and the deliverance of subsoil riches to corporate power. If this
is "democracy," it is a meaningless and formalistic democracy, in the more
relevant context of a lawless U.S.-directed security state. The occupation
is aimed at imposing a system which ultimately represents the hegemony of
the literally inhuman--robots, multinational corporations, legal fictions
pretending to be human--something which ultimately represents the
extermination of human culture.

So this is the dilemma: faced by this reality, how can we not root for the
people who are fighting back by force of arms?

And inevitably, there is an answer: those organizations which are fighting
back by arms are, in areas they control, forcing women to take the veil
under penalty of death, repealing the modest gains for women's emancipation
which existed under the Ba'athist regime; "cleansing" their perceived
religious and ethnic enemies--Sunni versus Shi'ite, both against Christians,
Gypsies, Mandeans. These forces apparently seek to impose something akin to
what was in power in Afghanistan before the fall of 2001. If they succeed
in this agenda for Iraq--a country far more strategic than Afghanistan in
terms of both resources and geography--it will be a tremendous step
backwards for human freedom globally. Just as if U.S. imperialism succeeds
in imposing its hegemonistic "peace," it will be a tremendous step
backwards for human freedom globally.

Having removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, Bush may have just
set the stage for the rise of a similar regime in Iraq. According to a
January report by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's
official think-tank, Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the incubator
for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, the Washington
Post reported Jan. 14. Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a
recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said
David B. Low, national intelligence officer for transnational threats.

In a February report, "Iraq--Decades of Suffering," Amnesty International
found that women in Iraq are now worse off than under Saddam Hussein. The
report charged U.S. forces with rape and sexual abuse, and cited the
general "lawlessness and increased killings, abductions and rapes that
followed the overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein"--as well as the
rise in "honor killings" as Islamic law gains greater currency.

The Iraqi resistance is apparently a fragmented affair, with little
centralized leadership. One of the more sophisticated statements came in
December from an outfit calling itself the Islamic Jihad Army. Released via
Internet, the slick four-minute video explicitly called for global
solidarity with Iraq's armed resistance:

"It is our duty, as well as our right, to fight back the occupying
force... We thank all those, including those of Britain and the U.S., who
took to the streets in protest against this war and against globalism...
Today, we call on you again. We do not require arms or fighters, for we
have plenty. We ask you to form a world wide front against war and
sanctions. A front that is governed by the wise and knowing. A front that
will bring reform and order. New institutions that would replace the now
corrupt... We will pin them here in Iraq to drain their resources,
manpower, and their will to fight. We will make them spend as much as they
steal, if not more. We will disrupt, then halt the flow of our stolen oil,
thus, rendering their plans useless. And the earlier a movement is born,
the earlier their fall will be."

It ended with a call for U.S. troops to desert, followed by a personal
answer to George Bush:

"And to the American soldiers we say, you can also choose to fight tyranny
with us. Lay down your weapons, and seek refuge in our mosques, churches
and homes. We will protect you. And we will get you out of Iraq , as we
have done with a few others before you. Go back to your homes, families,
and loved ones. This is not your war. Nor are you fighting for a true cause
in Iraq. And to George W. Bush, we say: You have asked us to 'Bring it on,'
and so have we, like never expected. Have you another challenge?"

The statement's positions are unassailable, and it is especially remarkable
in its implicit pluralism, indicating that churches as well as mosques
support the resistance. But how accurate is this? The Islamic Jihad Army
certainly has a good PR department, but it has failed to rack up the
impressive string of armed actions that have been attributed to Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi's self-proclaimed "al-Qaeda in Iraq."

The seeming secular spirit of the Islamic Jihad Army not only appears
incongruous with the group's name, but to contradict the actual realities
of the Iraqi resistance. Are the horrific atrocities attributed to the
resistance forces really the work of CIA "black propaganda" operations, as
has been dogmatically asserted by certain sectors of the North American
left? It is certainly absurd to exclude that possibility--but, in the
absence of evidence, equally ridiculous to assume it.

This February, for the second year in a row, the celebrations of the
Shi'ite holy day of Ashura--marking the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of
the Prophet Mohammed--saw a string of suicide attacks, leaving 74
worshippers dead. Zarqawi's group is believed responsible for a wave of
bombings during last year's Ashura that killed over 180. Local authorities
in Baghdad's Shi'ite districts say attacks on residents have left up to 300
dead over the past eight months.

Minority groups are also targets of terror. The Chaldeans and Assyrians,
heirs of Mesopotamia's early civilizations, are today Christian minorities
in Iraq. A Dec. 21 report from the Assyrian International News Agency noted
bomb attacks against three Chaldean churches in Mosul, as well as a wave of
kidnappings of local Christians.

And women are also favorite targets. A recent statement from the
Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) reads:

"Terrorist acts against women in Iraq by Islamic groups have increased
dramatically in recent months... A fascist Islamic group called 'Mujahideen
Shura Group' has warned that it will kill any women who are seen on street
unveiled whether by themselves or with a male companion! In the northern
city of Mosul, Christian women are targets of a killing, kidnapping and
rape campaign. One such barbaric crime took place in this city where two
women were kidnapped and raped by multiple men and then were sold as female
slaves to another group of men. They were again raped repeatedly for four
days before they managed to escape! In the city of Falluja, at the
Mujahideen congress held on October 20, 2004, the Islamic criminal Abdulla
al-Janabi and Falluja's Shura Council gave a fatwa (religious decree) that
Mujahideen fighters should rape girls at age 10 before they are raped by
Americans! Scores of university girls have been beaten up, often severely,
for wearing jeans or for not wearing hijab (Islamic veil). Women who go to
hair dressing salons are frequently attacked by Islamists and their hair is
cut in a public display of shaming. Thousands of leaflets are distributed
across the country every day warning women against going out unveiled,
putting on make up, shaking hands or mixing with men. More than 1000 female
university students have taken leave of their studies to protect themselves
against the terrorism of Islamists. They kidnap women in the name of
'resistance' and only release them after receiving thousands of dollars in
ransom for each woman!"


Resistance or Retrogression?

Despite this record, anti-war forces in the West continue along in their
1960s time-warp, oblivious to the fact that Iraq has no Ho Chi Minh, and
that the ideology and structure of the Iraqi resistance is radically different
from that of Vietnam's National Liberation Front.

In November 2004, Peter Hudis of the News & Letters Committees, the
Chicago-based followers of "Marxist-Humanist" thinker Raya Dunayevskaya,
published an essay in the group's newsletter calling the North American
left to account for these illusions. Entitled "Resistance or Retrogression?:
The Battle of Ideas Over Iraq," the essay had harsh words for some of
the left's most prominent writers:

"The U.S. occupation of Iraq has turned into a quagmire of nightmarish
proportions... At the same time, many left-wing critics of the war have
fallen into an ideological quagmire by failing to acknowledge the
reactionary character of much of the Iraqi 'armed resistance.' Some are
even speaking out in its defense. The most egregious examples are recent
comments by Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy, long considered leading
spokespersons of the movement against global capital. At the time of the
protests at the Republican National Convention in New York last August,
Klein wrote in an article 'Bring Najaf to New York': 'Muqtada al-Sadr and
his followers are not just another group of generic terrorists out to kill
Americans; their opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly
mainstream sentiment in Iraq.' The statement is patently false. Al-Sadr's
[Shi'ite] militia has fought U.S. troops in the name of a reactionary,
fundamentalist agenda that opposes women's rights, gay liberation, and
workers' self-emancipation. In April, when al-Sadr ordered workers in
aluminum and sanitary supply plants in Nasariyeh to hand over their
factories for use as bastions to fight the U.S. military, the workers
refused, stating: 'We completely reject the turning of workers and
civilians' work and living places into reactionary war-fronts between the
two poles of terrorism in Iraq: the U.S. and their allies from one side,
and the terrorists in the armed militias, known for their enmity to Iraqi
people's interests, on the other.' Klein and others fail to distinguish
between the fundamentalist agenda of the Shi'ite and Sunni militias and the
views of many independent Iraqis...

"Arundhati Roy has also fallen into the trap of failing to distinguish
between reactionary and progressive opponents of U.S. policies. She
recently wrote in her 'Public Power in the Age of Empire': 'The Iraqi
resistance is fighting on the frontlines of the battle against Empire. And
therefore that battle is our battle...Terrorism. Armed struggle.
Insurgency. Call it what you want. Terrorism is vicious, ugly, and
dehumanizing for its perpetrators as well as its victims. But so is war.
Terrorists...are people who don't believe that the state has a monopoly on
the legitimate use of violence.' Nowhere does Roy mention that these
'terrorists' whose 'battle is our battle' oppose women's rights, democracy
and self-determination for national minorities. Nowhere does she mention
that they want to create a totalitarian religious-based state... And
nowhere does she mention the genuine liberatory forces inside Iraq, like
the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions (FWCUI) or the Organization
for Women's Freedom (OWFI)--both of which have come under increasingly sharp
attack by both the U.S. occupiers and right-wing Islamists.

"How can such a vocal supporter of women's rights express virtually
uncritical support for reactionary forces in Iraq? She writes of the Iraqi
resistance: 'Like most resistance movements, it combines a motley range of
assorted factions. Former Baathists, liberals, Islamists, fed up
collaborationists, communists, etc. Of course, it is riddled with
opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery and criminality. But if we are only
going to support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of
our purity.' Liberation movements are never 'pristine.' But that hardly
defines al-Sadr, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ...or Lashkar-e-Taybe-the Pakistani
Sunni group that in the past few months has sent hundreds of 'holy
warriors' to Iraq. Their problem isn't (as Roy says) that they suffer from
'the iconization of leaders, a lack of transparency, a lack of vision and
direction.' They know their 'direction' only too well--they want to destroy
anything that comes in the way of a totalitarian control of society by
religious extremism. Which is why they target not just U.S. soldiers but
also Iraqi civilians, feminists, and anyone else who happens to oppose
their reactionary agenda.

"In this respect the fundamentalist militias fighting the U.S. in Iraq
closely resemble the Christian Right in the U.S., which wants to roll the
clock back on everything from women's rights to freedom of expression. One
of the supreme ironies of our times is that many leftists who are worried
to death about the power of the Christian Right in the U.S. are making
excuses for forces in the Islamic world which share its basic agenda!"

In April 2004, just five months before Naomi Klein wrote her panegyric to
Muqtada al-Sadr, his Mahdi Army militia attacked the Roma ("Gypsy") village
of Qawliya, torching houses, forcing residents to flee and leaving it a
"ghost town," according to the April 2 Financial Times--one of the few
media outlets to run anything on the incident. Mahdi Army commanders said
the town was targeted because the Gypsies tolerated prostitution. Local
authorities also pointed to drugs, dancing and other "un-Islamic"
activities, and applauded the Mahdists for "cleansing the town."

The saddest irony is that the resistance and collaborationist forces alike
share the ultra-reactionary Islamist ideology. Newly-elected (and
heavily-veiled) United Iraqi Alliance legislator Jenan al-Ubaedy, one of 90
women to sit on the new national legislature, was quoted in the Christian
Science Monitor Feb. 25 explaining what women can expect from the
implementation of Sharia law: "[The husband] can beat his wife but not in a
forceful way, leaving no mark. If he should leave a mark, he will pay. He
can beat her when she is not obeying him in his rights. We want her to be
educated enough that she will not force him to beat her, and if he beats
her with no right, we want her to be strong enough to go to the police."

Is this, then, the best we can hope for? On one hand a resistance made up
of jihadis who seek to impose a Taliban-style state and some Ba'athist
remnants; on the other, perhaps ever so slightly less reactionary Islamist
forces, who are willing to connive in the delivery of Iraq's resources to
the U.S. empire as the price of power. Are we really faced with this grim
either/or?

The worst "resistance" attack in Iraq so far came Feb. 28, when a suicide
car bomb exploded outside a government office where police recruits were
lining up for medical check-ups--but also destroyed a nearby market, killing
at least 125 and wounding even more. The following day, over 2,000 held a
demonstration at the site of the blast, chanting "No to terrorism!"

Anti-war forces in the West need to make a critical decision: do we stand
with the perpetrators of this massacre, or the brave few who took to the
streets to repudiate them and reclaim public space for civil society?

The Embattled "Third Alternative"

In February 2003, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq led a
campaign--including courageous street protests in Baghdad--to defeat a
measure in Iraq's interim constitution that would have imposed Sharia law,
including denial of divorce, inheritance and other rights to women. The
group also runs secret shelters in Baghdad, offering refuge to women who
are targeted for "honor killings." OWFI's leader, Yanar Mohammed, is
predictably under threat of assassination.

A statement by OWFI's New York-based support group says the organization is
part of a "third alternative" in Iraq: "Opposing the war and occupation of
Iraq does not have to mean supporting religious reactionary groups which
seek to enslave women and impose religious tyranny... The mass-based
movements for workers and women's rights oppose the US occupation and its
puppet government. At the same time they also combat the rise of religious
reaction and ethnocentrism as forces that can only divide and destroy Iraqi
society. They're fighting to establish a society based on principles of
freedom, equality, and social and economic justice. To achieve these goals
they need the support of the international progressive community."

The Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, which provides a base of support for
OWFI, is also involved in forming a labor federation independent of the
collaborationist regime, the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions.
There are several factories under the control of its affiliated workers'
councils, especially in the north of the country. The Worker-Communist
Party has also launched a Union of the Unemployed, demanding benefits for
the legions thrown out of work in the chaos of the past two years. It
boycotted the recent elections, calling them a "sham," and stands in
opposition to Iraq's traditional Communist Party, which is collaborating
with the U.S.-backed government. Along with a sibling organization in Iran,
the Worker-Communist Party was founded in 1991, in response to Desert Storm,
the demise of the Soviet Union and emergence of the U.S. as the single
superpower, viewing these developments as mandating a return to militant
workers' self-organization in the Persian Gulf region. It should also be
noted that the party has recently undergone some factional splits.

But the greatest threat posed to this struggling alternative is an obvious
one: any civil unarmed opposition is in danger of becoming irrelevant as
Iraq's political arena is increasingly dominated by utterly ruthless armed
actors--whether of the occupation, collaboration forces or "resistance."

On March 9, OWFI will be holding a national conference in Baghdad on
strategies for demanding a secular constitution and beating back new
proposals for imposition of Sharia, as Iraq's new government moves towards
drafting a permanent founding document. As the spectacular dialectic of
terror between occupation and "resistance" continues in its corpse-strewn
path, will the world pay any notice? And will the anti-war movement in the
United States, obsessed with its own factional strife and leadership
maneuvering, take any steps to offer meaningful solidarity?

---

RESOURCES:

Islamic Jihad Army statement:
http://207.44.245.159/article7468.htm

Assyrian International News Agency on persecution of Chaldeans:
http://www.aina.org/news/20041221164538.htm

Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq communique:
http://www.EqualityinIraq.com/htm/owfi241004.htm

Peter Hudis on "Resistance or Retrogression?":
http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2004/November/Essay_Nov2004.htm

WW4 REPORT interview with Yanar Mohammed of OWFI:
http://ww3report.com/iraq3.html

WW4 REPORT interview with Issam Shukri of the Union of Unemployed:
http://ww3report.com/iraq2.html

WW4 REPORT interview with Samir Noory of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq:
http://ww3report.com/iraq1.html

-------------------

Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March. 7, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution

http://ww4report.com