From the UK Guardian, Nov. 19:
The right to rule ourselves
Faced with US torture, killing and collective punishment of civilians, support for the Iraqi resistance is growing
by Haifa Zangana
The photograph of an elderly Iraqi carrying the burned body of a child at Falluja, widely shown during the chemical weapons controversy of recent days, is almost a copy of an earlier one that Iraqis remember – from Halabja in March 1988. Both children were victims of chemical weapons: the first killed by a dictator who had no respect for democracy and human rights, the second by US troops, assisted by the British, carrying the colourful banner of those principles while sprinkling Iraqis with white phosphorus and depleted uranium.
The Falluja image is emblematic of an unjust occupation. We read last week that US troops were “stunned by what they found” during a raid on a ministry of interior building: more than a hundred prisoners, many of whom “appeared to have been brutally beaten” and to be malnourished. There were also reports of dead bodies showing “signs of severe torture”. Hussein Kamel, the deputy interior minister, was “stunned” too. This feigned surprise is a farce second only to the WMD lie. Torture has continued as under Saddam’s regime in detention centres, prisons, camps and secret cells well beyond Abu Ghraib.
While the US and British governments have spent the 30 months of occupation arguing for the legality of chemical weapons and the “usefulness” of torture to extract information, Iraqis have been engaged in a different struggle: to survive the increasingly harsh occupation, and to define democracy and human rights accordingly. Experiences of collective punishment, random arrest and killing are the defining features.
On October 16, for example, a group of adults and children gathered around a burned Humvee on the edge of Ramadi. There was a crater in the road, left by a bomb that had killed five US soldiers and two Iraqi soldiers the previous day. Some of the children were playing hide and seek, and others laughing while pelting the vehicle with stones, when a US F-15 fighter jet fired on the crowd. The US military said subsequently it had killed 70 insurgents in air strikes, and knew of no civilian deaths.
Among the “insurgents” killed were six-year-old Muhammad Salih Ali, who was buried in a plastic bag after relatives collected what they believed to be parts of his body; four-year-old Saad Ahmed Fuad; and his eight-year-old sister, Haifa, who had to be buried without one of her legs as her family were unable to find it.
US forces increasingly use air strikes to reduce their own casualties. They also work with Iraqi forces on search-and-destroy missions to retaliate after a successful attack on their troops, or to intimidate the population ahead of a US-choreographed political process.
Most Iraqis are indifferent to the political timetable imposed by the occupiers – from the nominal handover of sovereignty to the bizarre three months of sectarian and ethnic wrangling about the interim government and the declaration of a “yes” vote on the draft constitution by Condoleezza Rice within hours of the ballot boxes closing. They think the whole process is intended to divert their attention from the main issues: the occupation, corruption, pillaging of Iraq’s resources, and the interim government’s failure on human rights.
A recent Human Rights Watch report gave fresh details of torture of detainees by US forces in Iraq. At a military base near Falluja, Mercury, abuse was not only overlooked but sometimes ordered. The report describes routine, severe beatings of prisoners, and the application of burning chemicals to detainees’ eyes and skin, to make them glow in the dark. Thousands have been kept for more than a year without charge or trial, including the writer Muhsin al-Khafaji, who was arrested in May 2003.
Women are taken as hostages by US soldiers to persuade fugitive male relatives to surrender or confess to terrorist acts. Sarah Taha al-Jumaily, 20, from Falluja, was arrested twice: on October 8 she was accused of being the daughter of Musab al-Zarqawi, despite her father, a member of a pan-Arab party, having been detained by US troops for more than two months; and on October 19 she was arrested and accused of being a terrorist. Hundreds of people demonstrated, and workers went on strike to demand her release. The interior ministry states that 122 women remain detained, charged with the novel crime of being “potential suicide bombers”.
As large-scale US-led military operations continue, the health situation on the ground is at breaking point. The Iraqi health infrastructure, doctors and hospital staff are unable to cope with the deepening humanitarian crisis. No wonder more Iraqis are supporting the resistance.
Armed resistance is in accordance with the 1978 UN general assembly resolution that reaffirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence … from … foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle”. The Iraqi National Foundation Congress (INFC), an umbrella group of parties and civil society organisations, is leading political resistance. There is also civil and community resistance, involving mosques, women’s organisations, human-rights groups and unions, which are linking up with international anti-war groups and anti-globalisation movements.
Most Iraqis believe that they have a right to more than a semblance of independence. The lesson history taught us in Vietnam, that stubborn national resistance can wear down the most powerful armies, is now being learned in Iraq.
Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi-born novelist and former prisoner of Saddam’s regime
A thought-provoking commentary, but we have some questions.
First, we question the implicit notion that the recently-discovered clandestine prison was run by US proxies. The Iraqi regime seems to be divided between elements (more or less) loyal to Iran and the US, and the prison was apparently operated by forces of the pro-Iran Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. We cited a recent Newsday story delineating this division. It should be noted that both sides seem to operate their own death squads and (probably) clandestine prisons. But this prison seems to have been run by the pro-Iran element—which probably says much about why it was “discovered.” In any case, yes, the surprise was almost certainly feigned.
More importantly, Zangana (like too many on the idiot left in the United States) merely invokes the “legitimacy” of “armed resistance” without examining the realities of Iraq’s actually-existing armed resistance. Mass murder of perceived ethno-religious enemies is in no sense “legitimate,” and that seems to be a fave tactic of the Iraqi “resistance” these days. This also says much about the ultra-fundamentalist ideology of much of the “resistance.” The imposition of a Taliban-style regime would not be much of a “liberation.” Given that Zangana has written elsewhere about the abysmal state of women’s rights in Iraq, one would hope for more grappling with this dilemma.
Finally, we would like more information about the Iraqi National Foundation Congress (INFC) that Zangana invokes. One of the few online references to them is a statement they issued on the January 2005 elections posted to a blog called Dead Men Left. The statement calls for transparency, not a boycott of the elections. It takes a stance for ethnic tolerance, demanding “a just solution for the Kurdish problem, to the satisfaction of the Kurds as equal partners with Arabs within a united country.” These are stances which appear inimical to those of the armed resistance. The following blurb is offered on the INFC’s background:
This umbrella grouping was announced in May this year  at a meeting in Baghdad attended by several hundred people. It has emerged in the last six months as a widely-supported platform for political opposition to occupation.
The group is composed of academics, professionals, community leaders, religious scholars and veteran moderate Arab-nationalist politicians. It straddles sectarian and ethnic divides, and attempts to formulate the widest platform possible. For that purpose it had kept its 25-member secretariat only partly filled and membership provisional. This allows for the inclusion of other anti-occupation political groups, including, for example, the Muqtada al-Sadr movement which had publicly supported the INFC aims and activity, but is still considering its own forms of religious and political actions and organisation.
The INFC offers the credibility of members who are from well-known backgrounds and high community standing, largely due to a record of independence or opposition to Saddam Hussain’s policies on the one hand, and to the history of criminal sanctions, invasion and occupation.
We would also like to know what (if any) links the INFC has to the Iraq Freedom Congress (IFC), another civil resistance coalition forced last year. The IFC supported a boycott of the elections, and also takes an explicit stance in opposition to the jihadi insurgents. Are these two formulations in dialogue with each other?
Would that Zanfara was correct that Iraq’s civil resistance was “linking up with international anti-war groups and anti-globalisation movements.” We have vigorously advocated exactly such an alliance, and we see very little evidence of it. Instead, the “anti-war” movement is content to cheer on the jihadi/Baathist insurgents from afar, while taking no responisbility for the implications of this position—or else ignores the question of solidarity with actual Iraqis altogether.
See our last post on Iraq.