Socialist Worker

Victory to the resistance in Iraq?

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 1915

Even a hardened cynic like me has been amazed by the blatant propaganda operation orchestrated by the US and British governments over Iraq.

The main aim of this operation has been to portray the country as somehow being “on the road to democracy”.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Tony Blair’s former “special envoy” in Iraq, put this party line on the BBC’s Today programme on Monday.

He dismissed the uprising by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army as an “anti-democratic insurgency”.

The BBC has played an especially disgraceful role in this campaign. Tariq Ali rightly argued in the Guardian last week that the Hutton report has succeeded in thoroughly cowing the corporation.

BBC correspondents consistently parrot the line that only a tiny minority of Iraqis support al-Sadr and his fighters.

But an opinion poll held in May reported 81 percent of Iraqis saying they had a better or much better opinion of al-Sadr than three months previously. By comparison, 61 percent of those polled said they opposed Iyad Allawi, now the puppet prime minister of Iraq.

The reason for the latest attempt to crush al-Sadr is plain enough. He has denounced Allawi and refused to participate in last weekend’s “national conference” to give the “interim government” a veneer of legitimacy.

Whether or not the US attack on al-Sadr’s forces in Najaf succeeds, the situation for the occupiers is unlikely to improve significantly.

Hidden away on the BBC website is a devastating analysis by Toby Dodge of Warwick University. Dodge argues that Washington’s current “political imperative” in Iraq is to minimise US casualties in the run-up to the November presidential elections.

But this strategy has “left large areas of the country without a visible security force,” he notes. “US and Iraqi government forces have been forced out of Fallujah, with the fighters of the insurgency now dominating Ramadi and Samarra, and both sides fighting for control of Mosul.”

Moreover, Dodge points out that al-Sadr’s main base of support is not in Shia holy cities such as Najaf, but in the impoverished Baghdad suburb of Sadr City: “US forces have had great difficulty operating here, fighting in crowded and narrow streets, with a lack of local knowledge. The security situation in Iraq is steadily deteriorating, with the insurgency’s geographic areas of operations growing steadily each day.”

So the war in Iraq will continue. But what attitude should the global anti-war movement take towards the fighting? Many activists are wary of backing the insurgents, both because figures such as al-Sadr are Islamists and because of the tactics – suicide bombings and hostage takings – that some groups have used.

But as Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South points out, “There has never been any pretty movement for national liberation or independence.”

During the great Algerian war of independence of 1954-62, liberation fighters waged an urban guerrilla war that frequently targeted civilians.

“What Western progressives forget is that national liberation movements are not asking them mainly for ideological or political support,” says Bello. “What they really want from the outside is international pressure for the withdrawal of an illegitimate occupying power, so that internal forces can have the space to forge a truly national government.”

Supporting the insurgents doesn’t mean backing the political views of al-Sadr or any other Iraqi leader. It means recognising that it is the resistance that is fighting for the Iraqi people’s basic democratic right to self determination.

More than that, if the insurgents win – if they force US and British forces out of Iraq – it will become much harder for the US to use its military power to bully and occupy weaker countries.

A victory for the Iraqi resistance would also be a victory for all those fighting capitalism and imperialism around the world.

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Sat 21 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1915
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