The resistance has many faces. In some towns it started after people lost patience with reconstruction. In others it was a direct response to US raids, arrests and humiliations.
But across Iraq the resistance is now known as “al-Muqawama al-Shaabi”—the popular resistance.
Members of the Iraqi delegation at a recent anti-war conference in Beirut spoke to Socialist Worker. The delegation, from Fallujah, Baghdad and Basra, included tribal and religious leaders and community representatives.
Nidal al-Jaz’iri represents women and children’s groups from the southern city of Basra. She says that in the first days after the invasion many people hoped life would improve. But these hopes were quickly dashed:
“In the south we know about the British because we were occupied by them before. Some of our main institutions were set up under British occupation in the 1920s, and there is still a British cemetery near Basra. We hoped we could cooperate with the British, but we were disappointed.
“There still has not been any real reconstruction. Non-governmental organisations came to Basra and made lots of promises, but often they just repainted the walls and made superficial repairs.
“Schools have still not been rebuilt. In many schools the roof still leaks and the floor is just mud. Children come home each day covered in dirt from the mud floor.”
Ordinary people began to organise to demand improvements in basic services, like water and electricity. But, instead of listening to these demands, the British troops ignored them and their representatives.
“People protested about the election of the governor and the appointment of the chief of police in Basra,” says Nidal. “Negotiations began with the occupying troops. People began to mobilise. They began to ask, ‘What about the future?’
“But we found it was impossible to negotiate with the troops.”
Dr Fatima Saloum, editor of the al-Mutahid newspaper, says people in Baghdad began to take matters into their own hands: “It is the ordinary people who began rebuilding the schools, cleaning the streets, running the hospitals—many of which were badly damaged by US bombs.
“People began to ask, ‘What use are all these armies? They don’t even know how to reconnect the electricity.’ We quickly realised that we had to do it ourselves—that we had to run our own towns and cities.”
In Fallujah and Samarra, part of the so called Sunni triangle, the resistance began after US troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in the early days of the occupation.
Sheikh Khalil Ibrahim, of the Beni Tamim tribe of Fallujah, says the armed resistance was sparked by US troops sweeping through neighbourhoods:
“First come the air raids, then the troops open up with their artillery, and finally they send in the tanks. They enter the town and seize the men, the youth and sometimes even the women. The only way to stop them is to rise against them.”
He says that after the Fallujah uprising it became clear that “cities that resist and are strong can keep the US out”.
“The people of Fallujah have risen in rebellion. The Americans cannot enter large parts of the city. The Beni Tamim have also liberated Yathrib in the Baled region north of Baghdad and towns near Baquba.”
The resistance has also undermined attempts by the US to sow divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Sheikh Sa’ad al-Ani of the Sufi Islamic Union of Iraq says that people from across the country helped the Fallujah resistance fighters during the April siege:
“People came from Baghdad, Najaf, and Basra to help Fallujah, and to bring us food and oxygen supplies. They came from every province of Iraq to show solidarity with us.”
Sheikh Sa’ad al-Ani says the victory in Fallujah proved it was possible to defeat the Americans: “The creation of the Fallujah Brigade, which ended the siege, was a victory for Fallujah.
“The religious scholars made an agreement with representatives of the US-backed interim government to select members of the brigade from among the people of Fallujah.”
The Fallujah Brigade has now joined the resistance.
Sheikh Khalil Ibrahim also dismissed claims that the country would descend into civil war if the US coalition were to withdraw:
“I am a Sunni Muslim, but the Beni Tamim is a mixture of Shia and Sunni. Do you think that as soon as the Americans leave we will start killing each other? That a father will kill his son?
“This lie about a civil war has only one purpose—to extend the occupation. We say, ‘Get out! Get out of our country. America and your allies, get out of our country. If you are afraid of civil war breaking out, turn the matter over to the United Nations so that it can bring peacekeeping troops to Iraq.’
“As for the US forces they are completely rejected by every man, woman and child in Iraq, of every religious creed—Sunni, Shia, Christian, Yazidi and Sabian, Kurd and Arab.”
Sheikh Khalil Ibrahim says the Turkmen, ethnic Turks of Northern Iraq, have also joined the resistance, and even the Kurds who suffered some of the worst oppression under Saddam’s regime are unhappy with the occupation and are refusing to be used as footsoldiers.
“We heard rumours that the Peshmerga [Kurdish forces] were helping the US, but we did not actually see them helping the enemy.”
He also dismissed claims that the resistance in Fallujah is under the control of Al Qaida:
“The Western media claim the resistance is being directed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of Al Qaida, but this is not true.
“The resistance in Fallujah is controlled by the people of Fallujah. In the other cities it is the same. We believe this is a deliberate lie spread by the Americans to discredit the resistance and to try to stop it from spreading.”
Samira al-Gaylani, a lawyer from Baghdad and head of the secular Progressive Movement of Iraqi Women, dismissed US attempts to play the sectarian card, saying, “Iraq has been mixed for 7,000 years. The resistance has general support among the Iraqi people.”
Dr Fatima Saloum says that there was some sympathy for the troops of the occupying powers:
“We see the young British and US soldiers and most of them are very young—just boys really. We wonder why such powerful armies would send these boys to occupy our country.
“We feel sorry for them because most of them just look scared all the time.
“At first they would give sweets and Coca-Cola to the children, but now they are even scared of the children.
“We feel sympathy for Rose Gentle and other mothers who have lost their sons, but we blame Bush and Blair for making these young men our enemies.
“It is important to know that there are two faces to the resistance—the armed resistance, like in Fallujah and Samarra, but also the other resistance, the civilian resistance.”
The Iraqi delegates also dismissed the national elections planned for January.
Nidal al-Jaz’iri says, “People in Basra reject the elections. They are dominated by political forces which are not known to us—people who came from outside Iraq.”
Samira says, “There will not be any democratic elections because the national convention which happened in Baghdad was just a piece of theatre. Everything was decided beforehand. After that kind of convention, you can imagine what the elections are going to be like.”
Sheikh Khalil Ibrahim of Fallujah says elections will not stop the resistance. “Any election which takes place under occupation will not be a genuine, national election, and will not be accepted by the Iraqi people.
“If they impose these elections on the Iraqi people, in order to set up a permanent government which supports America and its allies, the resistance will continue.”
The delegates confirmed the conclusions of a wide-ranging opinion poll sponsored by the US-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority in May.
The survey, which one Washington insider described as “grim reading”, was leaked to a US magazine.
The poll found that the majority of Iraqis want the US and British troops out of their country immediately, support the rebel Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, and consider the coalition forces as occupiers who want to steal the country’s wealth.
Over 80 percent of Iraqis said their opinion of al-Sadr had improved since his call for resistance against the occupation, and 64 percent said the Shia cleric had made the country “more united”.
The majority of Iraqis, 61 percent, also opposed Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s prime minister and darling of New Labour.
A report, Progress or Peril? Measuring Iraq’s Reconstruction, commissioned by the US army and the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, also found that the occupation is deeply unpopular.
In all categories—security, support for the authorities, services, economic confidence and wellbeing—the US has failed to win Iraqis.
The report concludes that Bush and Blair “failed to respond to the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction”, and warns that “the United States should expect continuing resentment and disaffection”.
Sheikh Ibrahim made a direct appeal to the British people:
“The people of Fallujah—and the people of Iraq—ask the British people to put pressure on Tony Blair to withdraw their occupying forces from Iraq so that we can forge real links of friendship between our two countries.
“If the British open an embassy in Iraq and treat us with respect we will respect them, but if they come as an occupying army to take over Basra and the south, even the stones and the trees will fight them.”