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Tariq Ali - Resistance is the first step

by Open-Publishing - Tuesday 4 November 2003

Wars and conflicts International Tariq Ali

Resistance is the first step towards Iraqi independence

This is the classic initial stage of guerrilla warfare against a
colonial occupation

By Tariq Ali

The Guardian (UK) November 3, 2003

Some weeks ago, Pentagon inmates were invited to a special in-house
showing of an old movie. It was the Battle of Algiers, Gillo
Pontecorvo’s anti-colonial classic, initially banned in France. One
assumes the purpose of the screening was purely educative. The French
won that battle, but lost the war.

At least the Pentagon understands that the resistance in Iraq is
following a familiar anti-colonial pattern. In the movie, they would
have seen acts carried out by the Algerian maquis almost half a century
ago, which could have been filmed in Fallujah or Baghdad last week.
Then, as now, the occupying power described all such activities as
"terrorist". Then, as now, prisoners were taken and tortured, houses
that harboured them or their relatives were destroyed, and repression
was multiplied. In the end, the French had to withdraw.

As American "postwar" casualties now exceed those sustained during the
invasion (which cost the Iraqis at least 15,000 lives), a debate of
sorts has begun in the US. Few can deny that Iraq under US occupation is
in a much worse state than it was under Saddam Hussein. There is no
reconstruction. There is mass unemployment. Daily life is a misery, and
the occupiers and their puppets cannot provide even the basic amenities
of life. The US doesn’t even trust the Iraqis to clean their barracks,
and so south Asian and Filipino migrants are being used. This is
colonialism in the epoch of neo-liberal capitalism, and so US and
"friendly" companies are given precedence. Even under the best
circumstances, an occupied Iraq would become an oligarchy of crony
capitalism, the new cosmopolitanism of Bechtel and Halliburton.

It is the combination of all this that fuels the resistance and
encourages many young men to fight. Few are prepared to betray those who
are fighting. This is crucially important, because without the tacit
support of the population, a sustained resistance is virtually

The Iraqi maquis have weakened George Bush’s position in the US and
enabled Democrat politicians to criticise the White House, with Howard
Dean daring to suggest a total US withdrawal within two years. Even the
bien pensants who opposed the war but support the occupation and
denounce the resistance know that without it they would have been
confronted with a triumphalist chorus from the warmongers. Most
important, the disaster in Iraq has indefinitely delayed further
adventures in Iran and Syria.

One of the more comical sights in recent months was Paul Wolfowitz on
one of his many visits informing a press conference in Baghdad that the
"main problem was that there were too many foreigners in Iraq". Most
Iraqis see the occupation armies as the real "foreign terrorists". Why?
Because once you occupy a country, you have to behave in colonial
fashion. This happens even where there is no resistance, as in the
protectorates of Bosnia and Kosovo. Where there is resistance, as in
Iraq, the only model on offer is a mixture of Gaza and Guantanamo.

Nor does it behove western commentators whose countries are occupying
Iraq to lay down conditions for those opposing it. It is an ugly
occupation, and this determines the response. According to Iraqi
opposition sources, there are more than 40 different resistance
organisations. They consist of Ba’athists, dissident communists,
disgusted by the treachery of the Iraqi Communist party in backing the
occupation, nationalists, groups of Iraqi soldiers and officers
disbanded by the occupation, and Sunni and Shia religious groups.

The great poets of Iraq - Saadi Youssef and Mudhaffar al-Nawab - once
brutally persecuted by Saddam, but still in exile, are the consciences
of their nation. Their angry poems denouncing the occupation and heaping
scorn on the jackals - or quislings - help to sustain the spirit of
resistance and renewal.

Youssef writes: I’ll spit in the jackals’ faces/ I’ll spit on their
lists/ I’ll declare that we are the people of Iraq/ We are the ancestral
trees of this land.

And Nawwab: And never trust a freedom fighter/ Who turns up with no
arms/ Believe me, I got burnt in that crematorium/ Truth is, you’re only
as big as your cannons/ While those who wave knives and forks/ Simply
have eyes for their stomachs.

In other words, the resistance is predominantly Iraqi - though I would
not be surprised if other Arabs are crossing the borders to help. If
there are Poles and Ukrainians in Baghdad and Najaf, why should Arabs
not help each other? The key fact of the resistance is that it is
decentralised - the classic first stage of guerrilla warfare against an
occupying army. Yesterday’s downing of a US Chinook helicopter follows
that same pattern. Whether these groups will move to the second stage
and establish an Iraqi National Liberation Front remains to be seen.

As for the UN acting as an "honest broker", forget it - especially in
Iraq, where it is part of the problem. Leaving aside its previous record
(as the administrator of the killer sanctions, and the backer of weekly
Anglo- American bombing raids for 12 years), on October 16 the security
council disgraced itself again by welcoming "the positive response of
the international community... to the broadly representative governing
council... [and] supports the governing council’s efforts to mobilise
the people of Iraq..." Meanwhile a beaming fraudster, Ahmed Chalabi, was
given the Iraqi seat at the UN. One can’t help recalling how the US and
Britain insisted on Pol Pot retaining his seat for over a decade after
being toppled by the Vietnamese. The only norm recognised by the
security council is brute force, and today there is only one power with
the capacity to deploy it. That is why, for many in the southern
hemisphere and elsewhere, the UN is the US.

The Arab east is today the venue of a dual occupation: the US-Israeli
occupation of Palestine and Iraq. If initially the Palestinians were
demoralised by the fall of Baghdad, the emergence of a resistance
movement has encouraged them. After Baghdad fell, the Israeli war
leader, Ariel Sharon, told the Palestinians to "come to your senses now
that your protector has gone". As if the Palestinian struggle was
dependent on Saddam or any other individual. This old colonial notion
that the Arabs are lost without a headman is being contested in Gaza and
Baghdad. And were Saddam to drop dead tomorrow, the resistance would
increase rather than die down.

Sooner or later, all foreign troops will have to leave Iraq. If they do
not do so voluntarily, they will be driven out. Their continuing
presence is a spur to violence. When Iraq’s people regain control of
their own destiny they will decide the internal structures and the
external policies of their country. One can hope that this will combine
democracy and social justice, a formula that has set Latin America
alight but is greatly resented by the Empire. Meanwhile, Iraqis have one
thing of which they can be proud and of which British and US citizens
should be envious: an opposition.

. Tariq Ali’s new book, Bush in Babylon: the re- colonisation of Iraq,
is published this week by Verso


Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003