Which Iraqi “resistance” do we support?

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 [2004] 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.

  1. Idiots on the left huh?
    I don’t know who posted the “idiots on the left” remark but are they kidding? How can anyone who voted for Bush call anyone else an idiot? Idiots got us into this mess both Democrats and Republicans… I protested this war as right wing num-nuts called me unpatriotic; I predicted the insurgency and possible civil war and also questioned the urgency of Iraq while our borders were open among other things 6 months before we invaded Iraq. It’s you on the right that are idiots… Didn’t you know abuses and civilian deaths would happen in a war? What if Saddam had those weapons we all assumed he had? He would have used them in populated areas in an effort to eliminate out troops and thousands of civilians would have died. This while the UN inspectors were still on the ground. We’re lucky this mess Bush and anyone whom supported him wasn’t worse. It’s you that supported Bush that are idiots. Huff

  2. simplicity is the mother of crooked Right
    I TRIED VERY HARD TO LISTEN. THEN I TRIED VERY HARD TO READ….but no matter how hard I tired I couldn’t get out of my mind what EJ Dionne had to say about our so called war on terror: we’ve been on a long holiday from complexity. That is the best criticism I ever heard of our “war president” and his war on terror. I labored with the ideos and transcripts of his repeated speeches on Iraq. They are all lies, idiocies and incredibly childish oversimplifications repeated over and over and over and over again, though each is billed as a “new policy presentation.” Given the NSA “listening-in” scandal and all that, putting that together with this oversimplification of verything, I think that George Orwell would now say: it’s a bit later than I thought, run by a bunch a bit dumber than I thought, but what the hell it is my “1984” just as I described it.

    As time goes on, people are realizing that if they stay as stupid as they were on election day 2004, nothing makes sense. So I see that they are struggling with all the “how come?”s created by expectations based on Bush’s previous speeches.

    We know that Cheney and Rumsfeld are part of that Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and Young Republican (YR) and Christian Right (CR) breed that populate the Bush Administration. They are different from GW Bush. His rule in life was: I DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING, MY POPPY IS PAYING SOMEBODY ELSE TO DO THAT. So he hired himself a Vice President– not to replace him if he dies, after all, actuarially Cheney’s prospects of dying as VP are 1000% greater than Bush’s chances of dying as P– but to do his worrying for him. And so we must look at this administration– at least the first 2001 to 2005 term– as one where George followed God’s voice talking to him through his gut, so all GW had to do was “follow my gut,” on the big issues and the Cheney-Rumsfeld team were taking care of everything else.

    Right wingers are something you can’t understand unless you grew up with them. As a group, they are the runts in the litter sired by a very mach bravado dad. So growing up it was all football and not crying. But what if you are a runt and can’t be tough? Well, then there’s always modeling yourself after that “tough guy,” JR Ewing from the TV show “Dallas.” He showed us how a runt can be macho by deception and theft. The bad-er you are inside the corporate structure, the baaaaddddeeeerrrr you seem. These guys soon realized–maybe around third grade– that they don’t have much up there between their ears for schooling. So they decided to become corporate organization men. They went on welfare from the Corporate Establishment. Screaming, “the Commies are coming, the Commies are coming,” they got members of this and that corporate boards to throw them a bone here and there that adds up to a lot of cash. They created YAF and YR, claiming to become the spokesmen of Wall Street and the defenders of Corporate greed. They always wore a suit and tie and always said: yes sir, yes mam. But inside their own mini-corporate YAF and YR boards they were true cannibals, eating each other voraciously, just like Parana. They all realized that they are
    intellectually very mediocre and very weak physically. So they stuck to the JR script of deception. But to get ahead, they had to eat the guy standing on top of their heads. So they came to the principle that: YOU HAVE TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX to eat your way ahead. Now what does that mean to an amoral, mediocre, undignified crud who only wants to climb and doesn’t care how?

    The answer is becoming very clear in a Platonic fashion. Plato suggested that if you blow up a problem to reeeaaalll gigantic, then nobody is going to miss the intricacies of how it works. And indeed, finally, the shenanigans of the YAF and YR Parana have become clear in the operation of a former YR named Abramoff. As an Jewish Orthodox outsider, he realized that he would have to work twice as hard to keep up with these big bad WASP goyim. So while Ralph Reed was floating cash out leisurely from the coffers of the Christian Right, a la Reverend Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye, Abramoff was hellfire hyperactive squeezing everyone and sucking every corner dry. He was really not just a con-man but a super-neocon! And, inevitably, withing a decade, he got caught. Now the scaffolding under this whole YR-YAF-neocon runt progeny of Middle America is exposed. We are seeing everything from influence peddling to out and out theft exposed now that the big fat Republican Elephant in Congress is about to fall over. Between Cheney’s mendacity and bravado and Rumsfeld’s power grabbing– insisting that everyone understand that THEY are in charge– it is becoming quite obvious that they are both mediocre crooks reaching far, far above their grasp, who only hired other mediocre crooks as assistance so that they don’t get eaten themselves by their deputy-Paranas.

    Of course, desperate to save himself from having to worry about the guy payed to do his worrying for him, Bush sought to fire them both before the 2004 election and replace Cheney with Senator McCain, the guy Bush’s little demon, Rove, screwed in the good old YAF-YR way during the Republican primaries in 2000. But Cheney and Rumsfeld threatened to take all those “right wingers” with them if they’ve gotta go. So now, Bush has to worry about all the many guys payed to do his worrying for him!

    Alas, Bush doesn’t trust them. So that leaves him no one to depend on but Karl Rove, his political guru. But Rove told him: in three years you are gone into the past, but the Republican majority must live on. GW Bush responded: I don’t care, I’m the president, and I have to pass laws that gives all the robber barons that funded by re-election campaign each a big chunk of America, or they’ll be mad at me and won’t let me get drunk with them on their ranches after I retire. So now Bush and Rove are also on the outs. So what’s left? The answer is the SPEECH WRITERS. Yes, those guys who know how to twist plain speech that is totally devoid of information into “le beau mot.” Now they come up with phrases that they think will “sound good” in a speech. Sooooo, GW simply molds the “policies” around the speeches. For example, wordsmith Dan Bartlett said on PBS recently that the public expects the president to “prove that he can walk and chew gum at the same time.” And so, sure enough, we now have national policies that look exactly like that, walking and chewing gum at the same time. With no “politicos” and “experts” to help him with anything else that he can trust, Bush is simply guided in policy making by what the speechwriters think would sound good in a speech. We are a nation bound to policies that sound good in a speech to the speechwriters that compose them, period.

    If Bush were a physician, he would have his license pulled and would be before a judge on charges of CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE. But he’s not a doctor, he’s a president– a war president. Therefore, he can let the bodies pile up because no one is going to sue him in the middle of a “war on terror.” Suing a president has another name: IMPEACHMENT.

    Daniel E. Teodoru


    February 24, 2006, 2:51 p.m.
    It Didn’t Work

    “I can tell you the main reason behind all our woes? it is America.” The New York Times reporter is quoting the complaint of a clothing merchant in a Sunni stronghold in Iraq. “Everything that is going on between Sunni and Shiites, the troublemaker in the middle is America.”

    One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. The same edition of the paper quotes a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in Samara and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge. He concludes that “the bombing has completely demolished” what was being attempted –to bring Sunnis into the defense and interior ministries.

    Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven’t proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.

    The Iraqis we hear about are first indignant, and then infuriated, that Americans aren’t on the scene to protect them and to punish the aggressors. And so they join the clothing merchant who says that everything is the fault of the Americans.

    The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elucidates on the complaint against Americans. It is not only that the invaders are American, it is that they are “Zionists.” It would not be surprising to learn from an anonymously cited American soldier that he can understand why Saddam Hussein was needed to keep the Sunnis and the Shiites from each others’ throats.

    A problem for American policymakers –for President Bush, ultimately –is to cope with the postulates and decide how to proceed.

    One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom.

    The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymkers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.

    This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure. It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa, and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does not force us to generalize that violence and antidemocratic movements always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question, What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail ?in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) which we simply are not prepared to take? It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn’t work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.

    Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.

    He will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.

    Yes, but within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.

    (c) 2006 Universal Press Syndicate