"THEY HAVE crossed the line," declared Paul Bremer, the US ruler of Iraq, on Sunday. He was raging against demonstrators in the town of Najaf who clashed with Spanish-led occupation troops. The occupation troops shot down around 20 Iraqis. At least two occupying soldiers, one from El Salvador and one from the US, were killed.
At least 22 Iraqis and seven US troops were killed in clashes in the Sadr City suburb of Baghdad on Sunday. Bremer's words are accurate-but in a way he never intended. The whole situation in Iraq has crossed a line in the last week, with some US papers now talking of "an uprising against US-led occupation forces". The occupation forces' rising curve of repression and brutality has sparked a sharp shift in the level of Iraqi resistance. That resistance is throwing the whole occupation increasingly into question. It has been seen in every part of the country.
The resistance includes Sunni Muslims in the centre of Iraq, Shia Muslims in parts of the capital and towns like Najaf, Shias and Arabs in the British-run south, and also in the Kurdish north. Four months ago we were told the capture of Saddam Hussein would end resistance. But the resistance has reached levels which now make parts of Iraq effectively no-go areas for occupation troops.
US attempts to repress supporters of prominent Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr sparked the protests in Najaf and Baghdad on Sunday. US troops closed down a Sadr-supporting newspaper last week, and at the weekend arrested one of Sadr's leading aides. In Amara in the south British troops also shot down pro-Sadr protesters on Sunday, killing at least four, in the latest of a series of increasingly violent clashes with Iraqi demonstrators over the last week.
On Monday protesters responded to the British brutality by occupying the main government building in the key city of Basra. Two more US marines were killed in a firefight on Sunday in the central Iraqi province of al-Anbar, whose main town is Fallujah. Five US marines were killed when their vehicle was blown up in the same area last week.
US military officials in Iraq themselves admit that there are now an average of 26 attacks against occupation troops every day. By Monday a total of 466 US soldiers had been killed in Iraq since George Bush declared the end of the war on 1 May last year. Official US military figures released last week also showed that 18,000 US troops have had to be medically evacuated from Iraq in the last year. Far more Iraqis have been killed, of course, but the US losses are sapping the morale of the occupiers.
A Pentagon survey reported last week showed that 72 percent of US troops said their units were suffering from low morale. The effects of the occupation are being felt back in the US. A poll for the CBS TV network and New York Times last week found for the first time that a majority of people in the US, 51 percent, did not believe the war in Iraq was worth the loss of more US lives.
The US is caught in a vice-like contradiction. It cannot afford to retreat and be driven out of Iraq, for that would be a catastrophic defeat for the global ambitions of the world's major imperialist power.
But the US cannot bear the growing price of maintaining the occupation. What that clash of imperatives will produce in the weeks ahead no one can predict, but it is an unstable and highly explosive mix.