The U.S. aggressors call their occupation of Iraq Operation Iraqi Freedom. That is, their invasion was a liberation war for Iraqis. The similar case of this false piety can be found in the modern history of the Asian and Pacific region. When Japanese imperialism started the Sino-Japanese War on the Korean peninsula in 1894, it said it did so to retaliate against the barbarous China for the sake of the independence and domestic reform of Korea. When Japan annexed Korea in 1910 it did so for the retention of oriental peace, the dignity of the Korean monarch and the reform of corrupt and obsolete institutions.
Although they are a century apart, there is little difference between Japanese and U.S. imperialism in that both use “the graceful occupation” as a bedrock pretext. We all remember that the U.S. killed about four million people during the Vietnam War on the pretext of protecting Vietnamese freedom. It is the best of tragic comedy that the U.S., which supported Hussein throughout the 1980s against Iran and which sold chemical weapons components to him, brands Hussein as the dictator who must be overthrown. Wrapping aggression in the pretext of freedom, independence and reform has a long history.
However, here is the difference that deserves observation. During the Sino-Chinese War, a considerable number of Korean intellectuals believed the Japanese false posturing. Although they were political opportunitists who wanted to use Japan for personal gain, there existed a naÃ¯vetÃ© among reform-minded intellectuals that held that Japanese support and leadership were essential to Korea’s future. Most historians agree some members of the reformist cabinet after the war were motivated by this innocent patriotic zeal. They believed that Japan was an inevitable adversity to Korea, a backward country had to tolerate in its way out of its economic and political backwardness. And there were a considerable number of South Vietnamese intellectuals who believed that the U.S. intervention is a necessary evil to protect Vietnam from communism.
Then what about the second Gulf War? How many Iraqis would believe the U.S. to be a necessary evil to oust Hussein?
From day one of the invasion, U.S. and U.K. embeds fanatically looked for a crowd welcoming the occupying forces. That’s because such footage needed to hit the airwaves to justify the war. Pictures of Iraqis, coaxed by aid or scared by force, awkwardly shaking hands with GIs made their ways into U.S. newspapers. However, the very fact that popular resistance has started puts the lie to those pictures.
A majority of the Shiites in southern Iraq, on whom the occupiers pinned their hopes for collaboration, refused to work with them, despite the fact that they had been disfranchised so long under Hussein. Addul Majid al-Khoei, a pro-American Shiite leader, who quickly came back to Iraq after the fall of Baghdad, was assassinated. Shiites took the streets under the slogan of neither Hussein nor the U.S.
Some Shiite leaders have decided to negotiate with the U.S., but even they understand the U.S. is the occupying power. It has been confirmed in a number of press reports that not just the ruling Sunnis but also the oppressed Shiites joined the guerilla fight against the aggressors.
Although some pictures of Baghdad citizens welcoming the invaders hit the airwaves, it later tuned out in press reports that they are small in numbers.
U.S. occupation of Baghdad came much easier than expected, some reports said, because the U.S. cut a secret deal with some Iraqi leaders. However, no evidence turns up as of yet to substantiate the allegations that the U.S. successfully bribed Iraqi officials into collaboration. And even if some generals became turncoats this would not suggest that a formidable group of collaborators exists inside Iraq. The Kurdish, the only force that worked – conditionally – with the U.S., strongly condemn U.S plans to set up a puppet regime after a period of military government. After more than a decade of quasi-independence Kurdistan is now hardly regarded as part of Iraq.
During the war, the U.S. media blamed the horror of Hussein’s tyranny for the scarcity of Iraqi collaborators for the U.S. – just as the Japanese colonial master muttered that the threats of anti-Japanese guerillas impeded Korean support for Japanese rule. Then what about Iraqi expatriates? They can claim to support the U.S. without fear of Hussein. Is there a single overseas Iraqi who sees the U.S. as a necessary evil for civilization?
As the threats of war loomed in Iraq, interviews of Iraqi expatriates began to fill the headlines here in Norway. Although many of them were Kurds or Shiites who were faced with genocide under Hussein, none supported the war of aggression by the U.S. While they all wanted an end to the Hussein dictatorship they believed that the pro-U.S. puppet regime would run amok.
What they would see democratization will be won by the people’s struggle not given by the U.S. like a Christmas gift. In chorus the Iraqis in Norway voiced concern about the massive damage the war would inflict and feared for the lives of their families and friends back home. All their remarks went along the lines like this: “I cannot even sleep because I fear I will lose my family to bombardments.” Their worries were justified as thousands of civilians were killed in the war. For them the U.S. was not a necessary evil but an absolute one. About 1,000 Iraqis living in Oslo publicly resolved to join the anti-U.S. struggle in their home country, and it made some buzz. The Iraqi Communist Party (http://www.iraqcp.org/framse1/), one of persistent opponents to Hussein, made a clear party-wide stance against the U.S. invasion. It still refuses to cooperate with the U.S.
Then who does the U.S. plan to install as its own agent in Iraq? In 1998, the U.S. enacted a rare piece of legislation called the Iraqi Liberation Act and spent about $100 million financing Iraqi opposition groups aimed at ousting Hussein. Do these groups have anything with democracy or the will of the Iraqi people?
Let’s look at the Iraqi National Congress, which has been the largest recipient of U.S. funds. Ahmad Chalabi, who found the congress in London in 1992, came from a business family with political connections. In 1958, he sought political asylum in the U.S. where he received a Ph.D. in mathematics. While living in the lap of luxury, Chalabi has successfully received funds from the U.S. government through his cozy connections with members of the Congress and vice president Dick Cheney. But he is virtually unknown in Iraq.
While Chalabi is still wanted on a warrant by Jordanian authorities for the fraud and embezzlement of $200 million he allegedly committed as manager of Petra Bank in 1988, other “democratic” opposition leaders’ rap sheets are more terrible. For instance, Former Iraqi chief of staff Nizar al-Khazraji who has been cooperating with the CIA since his asylum of 1996, masterminded a number of poison gas attacks that killed a total of 100 thousand Kurdish people through the 1980s. If the U.S. puts on democratic opposition clothing the con artists and former henchmen of Hussein and install them in Iraq, the country’s future will look dark.
A century ago, intellectuals of the oppressed were bought by such shams as civilization and freedom; there is no particular group that will collaborate with the U.S. in Iraq, except for a small minority of crooks in exile. There are several reasons for this. In the Arab world the strong self-consciousness has formed through historical experiences that its own development is possible only through the break of its subordination to the U.S.
In Iraq where the barbarism of the First Gulf War and the ensuing economic embargo wrought human and economic damages, pro-American means a betrayal to the nation. In the Middle East, neither the sham of developmentalism that used to paralyze the brain of the oppressed nor the divide-and-rule tactic, a traditional vehicle of imperialism, would work. The U.S. has entered into a no-friend zone and had to resort to shock and awe. The aggressors are now feeling euphoric, but they will be faced with popular resistance before long
Vladimir Tikhonov, a naturalized Korean of Russian origin also known as Pak Noja in South Korea, teaches Korea studies at the University of Oslo in Norway. His personal Web site can found at http://www.geocities.com/volodyatikhonov/volodyatikhonov.html
Originally published in the April 24, 2003 issue of Hankyereh 21.
Translated and edited by Kap Su Seol