Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Right to Resist Occupation

Counterpunch, January 21, 2005

The Anti-War Movement and the Iraqi Resistance


The Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation is growing, as is its support among
ordinary Iraqis. Iraq's interim government recently admitted that the
insurgency involves at least 40,000 "hardcore fighters" and up to 200,000
active sympathizers--a far cry from the isolated 5,000 "Baathist remnants"
and "foreign fighters" the Pentagon initially claimed to be fighting.

A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in March concluded, "The
insurgents...seem to be gaining broad acceptance, if not outright support.
If the [pro-U.S.] Kurds, who make up about 13 percent of the poll, are
taken out of the equation, more than half of Iraqis say killing U.S. troops
can be justified in at least some cases."

That was shortly before the first siege on Falluja, in which U.S. forces
killed over 600 civilians before the armed resistance drove them out.
Support for the resistance can only have grown now that U.S. bombs have
flattened Falluja, killing hundreds more civilians and driving 200,000
residents to live in the squalor of refugee camps--while dispersing the
resistance fighters to other localities.

In mid-December, for example, Knight Ridder reported on a 41-year-old Iraqi
woman, Kifah Khudhair, injured in a car bombing in Baghdad--whose rage was
directed not at the car bombers, but at the Americans. "What can we do?"
her son said. "These things happen every day, like looting and murder. I am
angry at the Americans because it is all their fault. This is all because
of them."

* * *

IRAQIS SUPPORT the resistance against the U.S. occupation of their country
for one simple reason: they want the Americans to get out--now.

Yet many in the U.S. antiwar movement have had difficulty accepting this
black-and-white reasoning, preferring to see the world in shades of gray.
"[Iraqi] jihadis or America's terror-using hypocrites? If we are truly to
stop the terrorists, the world must take sides against both," wrote New
Left veteran Steve Weissman recently on Truthout.

This argument by Weissman is faulty on two counts.

First, Weissman equates the 500-pound bombs and high-tech weapons used by
the world's biggest superpower occupying Iraq (at the cost of $7.8 billion
per month) to the rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs of those
resisting that occupation. One side aims to control Iraq to fulfill its
grand plan to dominate the Middle East and its oil. The other merely seeks
the right for Iraqis to determine their own future.

Some 100,000 Iraqi civilians are now estimated dead because of the war and
occupation. This followed the roughly 1 million Iraqis killed from the
deprivation caused by more than a decade of economic sanctions. And this
followed a death toll of up to 200,000 in the 1991 Gulf War. Choosing sides
should not be so difficult.
Without for a moment endorsing the tactic of targeting civilians, which is
used by parts of the resistance, the sheer magnitude of the death and
destruction inflicted by the U.S. upon ordinary Iraqis should dispel any
myth that the two sides in this war deserve equal condemnation.

Moreover, Weissman accepts at face value the Bush administration's absurd
characterization of the insurgency as dominated by "terrorists" and Islamic

On December 15, the Boston Globe published a report by Molly Bingham, who
lived from August 2003 until June 2004 in Baghdad researching the
resistance. She observed, "The composition of the Iraqi resistance is not
what the U.S. administration has been calling it, and the more it is
oversimplified, the harder it is to explain its complexity. I met Shia and
Sunnis fighting together, women and men, young and old. I met people from
all economic, social and educational backgrounds."

She continued: "The original impetus for almost all of the individuals I
spoke to was a nationalistic one--the desire to defend their country from
occupation, not to defend Saddam Hussein or his regime." Bingham's
conclusion should help focus the aims of every antiwar activist in the
U.S.: "The resistance will continue until American influence has
disappeared from Iraq's political system."

* * *

SUPPORT FOR the right of Iraqis to resist occupation must extend beyond an
abstract principle for the U.S. antiwar movement.

While recognizing "the right of the Iraqi people to resist as a point of
principle," Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies--in widely
circulated notes for a speech to the steering committee of United for Peace
and Justice (UFPJ) on December 18--argued, "We should not call for
'supporting the resistance' because we don't know who most of them are and
what they really stand for, and because of those we do know, we mostly
don't support their social program beyond opposition to the occupation."

To be meaningful, however, supporting the "right to resist" must include
support for that resistance once it actually emerges.

Award-winning Indian writer and global justice activist Arundhati Roy got
to the heart of the issue in a San Francisco speech on August 16: "It is
absurd to condemn the resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq, as being
masterminded by terrorists," she said. "After all, if the United States
were invaded and occupied, would everybody who fought to liberate it be a

If we are waiting for the "ideologically pure" movement--assuming the
unlikely scenario that all those opposed to the war could agree on one--we
could be waiting forever.

As Roy explained, "Like most resistance movements, [the Iraqis] combine a
motley range of assorted factions. Former Baathists, liberals, Islamists,
fed-up collaborationists, communists, etc. Of course, it is riddled with
opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery and criminality. But if we were to
only support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our

"Before we prescribe how a pristine Iraqi resistance must conduct their
secular, feminist, democratic, nonviolent battle, we should shore up our
end of the resistance by forcing the U.S. and its allied governments to
withdraw from Iraq."

Focus on the Global South's Walden Bello made a similar point in June.
"What western progressives forget is that national liberation movements are
not asking them mainly for ideological or political support," he wrote.
"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 based on their unique
processes. Until they give up this dream of having an ideal liberation
movement tailored to their values and discourse, U.S. peace activists will,
like the Democrats they often criticize, continue to be trapped within a
paradigm of imposing terms for other people."

* * *

THE U.S. antiwar movement should heed this advice and expend less energy in
judging the character of the Iraqi resistance and more effort on building a
visible resistance to the Iraq occupation from inside the U.S.

When the U.S. invaded Falluja and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke in
the spring of 2004, the U.S. antiwar movement--already ensconced in its
misguided effort to elect prowar John Kerry--declined to mount a visible
response to these and other atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq,
effectively sparing the Bush administration from the need to account for
its war crimes.

The main challenge for antiwar activists in the United States is to rebuild
a visible, national antiwar movement. That means opposing the January 30
election--held under martial law, which will effectively exclude 50 percent
of the population--and supporting the resistance that exposes its utter

Is this strategy too ambitious--too far to the left for "mainstream"
America? That is unlikely, since a majority of Americans continue to oppose
the war.

U.S. troops are also divided, and we need to actively support those troops
who--at great personal risk--are resisting. The latest is U.S. Army Sgt.
Kevin Benderman, who refused to redeploy to Iraq earlier this month after
serving there from March to September 2003.

"The people that we are fighting now are for the most part people like you
and me, people who are defending themselves against a superior military
force and fighting to keep that which is rightfully theirs," Benderman
said. He added that the Iraqi people have the right to choose their own
form of government, "just like we did in America after the revolution."

The antiwar movement must not lose sight of the fact that its main enemy is
at home--and any resistance to that enemy deserves our unconditional support.


At November 7, 2005 at 2:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, excellent website. A great Iraq resource is Deaths in Iraq. It breaks all of the casualties down by age, race, branch of the military, country, etc.


Post a Comment

<< Home