Barely a year after America closed its eyes to reason, its greatest nightmare has arrived.
The neoconservative elites who launched America into war with lofty rhetoric about overthrowing Arab tyranny are now witnessing mass resistance against the most brutal tyranny in the region today – their own. The combination of a renewed insurgency in the Sunni center and an explosive popular rebellion in the Shiite center and south presents a damning indictment of America’s colonial occupation of Iraq. As children in rags run in the streets to hurl stones at American tanks and as those tanks fire furiously into homes and buildings to crush a growing two-pronged rebellion, one thing above all seems clear: Iraqis demand real liberation, not Bush’s farce. And they are willing to challenge the most powerful army in the world to win it.
While the recent assertiveness of resistance in the so-called ‘Sunni Triangle’ is surprising given the relentlessness of the US Army’s Operation Iron Hammer offensive, the crucial element of the escalated rebellion is the armed struggle taken up by prominent Shia leader Moqtada Sadr, who commands the allegiance of a significant and growing portion of Iraq’s majority Shiite population, particularly the poor. The emergence of an uprising by that section of society most brutalized by Saddam deals a death blow to two main lines of the Bush administration’s war propaganda: First, it is no longer possible to smear the resistance as merely a ragtag collection of terrorists, Ba’athists, or outsiders; and second, it is equally impossible to claim the occupation is being carried out in the interests of any Iraqis – unless Halliburton fatcats and Blackwater mercenaries have been handed out citizenship.
But the blows extend far beyond the plane of propaganda. For it turns out that the blundering arrogance and hubris of American imperialism have succeeded in achieving the previously unthinkable – unity between Shia and Sunni Iraqis in the struggle against the occupation. On April 6, United Press International reported that “Tuesday afternoonâ€¦the Sunni-led resistance forces publicly declared their support for Sadr.” The article continued, “â€¦emissaries arrived from the tribal leaders of Sunni regions and from the largest resistance movement in Iraq to offer their serves to Sadr in his fight against the Americans.” A letter from the chief of the largest Sunni tribe, which includes the flashpoints of Ramadi and Fallujah, declared, “weâ€¦(offer) our army and people and souls and hearts and weapons under your command. There is no more Shiite and Sunni, only Muslims and now we will fight each other no more and together fight the enemy.” A speaker representing Sadr then “thanked members of the crowed” from the Sunni areas for their support. (1)
On April 7, the Washington Post confirmed and expanded upon this claim, noting that “On Monday, residents of Adhamiya, a largely Sunni section of northern Baghdad, marched with followers of Moqtada Sadrâ€¦” After acknowledging that Sadrist and Sunni resistance forces exchanged letters of mutual support and solidarity, the Post further added that in neighborhoods unconnected to the radical Sadr and heedful of the more moderate leading Shiite cleric al-Sistani , many have nonetheless joined up in the former’s cause. A Sistani follower and official of a Shiite shrine “estimated that half of the neighborhood’s Sistani followers were joined in Sadr’s protest in the absence of any instruction otherwise from their own leader.” (2)
The practical consequences of a united Sunni-Shiite offensive against American colonialism have manifested themselves in no uncertain terms. In the past three days, dozens of American soldiers and elite Marine forces have been killed and many more injured in major clashes encompassing no less than six major Iraqi cities: Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad, Najaf, Nassiriyah, and Amarrah. As one Shiite explained to the New York Times, “We did not fight the occupation like the Sunnis did right away. But now there is no difference. The war is everywhere, north, east, south and west.” (3)
From the past two days of fighting, the streets of many Shiite neighborhoods are littered with debris from both occupation vehicles torched by rocket-propelled grenades and Iraqi cars and houses destroyed or pockmarked by American tank fire. Hospitals in Baghdad which received Iraqi dead and wounded from the fighting in Sadr City reported 43 killed and 196 wounded, not including surrounding hospitals from smaller areas. Another gun battle against Italian, American, and Salvadorian troops, which began as a demonstration, resulted in 24 dead and 200 injured Iraqis. (4,5)
The fiercest fighting, however, has taken place in the Sunni strongholds. In Fallujah, the US Army is looking to “avenge” the recent killing of three US troops and four mercenaries hired by a security contracting firm who were accorded the status of mere innocent “civilians” in the ever-impartial pages of the US press. Obviously heeding the ‘wisdom’ of their Israeli advisers, American commanders began bombarding the city of 200,000 on April 6 with ferocity. The Associated Press announced, “Tanks pounded shell after shell into houses,” and “U.S. forces called out a weapon rarely used against the Iraqi guerrillas: the AC-130 gunship” – essentially a large transport plane grotesquely outfitted with a lethal array of weaponry. The typical results were also dutifully reported: “Faljullah hospital officials said they received 16 Iraqi dead Tuesday and more than 20 wounded, including women and children.” (6)
Not so typical however, is the tenacity of resistance in Fallujah – where militants have opened up RPG and machine-gun fire to hold their ground – and the daring raid on an American base in Ramadi. Possibly conducted by a joint Sunni-Shiite force, and certainly intended to divert American attention from nearby Fallujah, on April 6 “insurgents mounted a large-scale attack against Marines in Ramadi,” resulting in “as many as a dozen Americans [â€¦] killed and more than a dozen wounded, with heavy insurgent casualties.” (7)
The Shiite aspect of the rebellion consists of more than attacks on US troops. Sadr’s well-organized and disciplined militia, the Mahdi’s Army, has taken full administrative control of several Shiite strongholds, including Najaf and Kufa, which US troops have largely evacuated – at least for the moment. Sadr has also called for a general strike in many communities, which have been widely receptive to the request. Amazingly, the Iraqi police force set up by the occupation authorities has either defected to the resistance or been totally neutralized in these areas with nothing more than the force of popular pressure of Shiite communities, who viewed them as collaborators. The Mahdi’s Army now controls all the barracks and weapons in these towns in what one Financial Times reporter described as a Shiite “Intifada.” (8)
Far from some superficial manifestation of temporary anger, the Shiite rebellion has deep roots of discontent with the occupation, confirmed and reinforced over a year-long period. Hassan Jasim, a 35 year-old headmaster of a large Najaf school, explained, “We welcomed the Americans and their slogans of democracy but what we see is just another form of dictatorship.” Pointing out the shoddy work of US contractors paid to refurbish his school, he added, “It’s just corruption and the Americans wouldn’t let us make any complaints. They told us to be silent.”(9)
In a crowd near a bullet-ridden car whose occupants were killed by American soldiers, Samir Hamid, an unemployed wage-laborer, and others around him “pointed to the piles of garbage and stinking sewage in the middle of the street.” He remarked, “You can see the rubbish. There is no electricity, no water. Nothing has changed for us.” Abbas Radi, a local college student, added: “It is not a matter of hating the Americans. At first we trusted them, but we saw nothing from them, and we trusted in the governing council until we discovered they are cowards. Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement is the only one that calls for the rights of the Iraqi people.” (10)
But in a display of dangerous delusions that would have impressed even Orwell, America’s top occupation authority Paul Bremer dismissed the uprising as a “minor-sized militia.” (11) With rebellion in the air and dozens dying daily, he further expounded on what he considered the real developments in Iraq: “a bustling economy, people opening businesses left and right, unemployment has dropped.” He continued, “[Sadr] believes that in the new Iraq, like in the old Iraq, power should be to the guy with guns. That is an unacceptable vision for Iraq.” (12) This from a man who represents a foreign invasion force of 150,000 “guys with guns.”
Outdoing the idiocy of Bremer’s pronouncements, Brigadier General Mark Kimmit summed up the extreme levels of denial among war planners in describing the Faljullah operation as “the first of a series of actions taken to attack anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi forces, to re-establish securityâ€¦and begin the process of civil military assistance projects…” (13) Thus, Iraqi citizens fighting a foreign occupation are dubbed “anti-Iraqi forces”, and after they are killed or buried in the rubble of their homes, “assistance projects” – the value of which the Shiites have already been generously exposed to – will swiftly set in.
But let us not ourselves be deluded by these developments. While certainly a nightmare for the American people and military families, the revolt in Iraq, strengthened by Sunni-Shiite unison under the banner of anti-colonialism and Islam, is probably a consolation to the pernicious and apocalyptic reactionaries currently in power: Christian fundamentalists and pro-Israel zealots who hunger for an epic confrontation between Islam and the West. It is the duty of those who take seriously the words of Thomas Paine, “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion,” to demand a total and immediate withdrawal from Iraq to extricate America – and the Iraqi people – from this abysmal quagmire.
1. “Former Iraqi enemies unite to fight U.S.”, by P. Mitchell Prothero. United Press International, April 6, 2004.
2. “Muslim Rivals Unite In Baghdad Uprising“, By Karl Vick, Washington Post, April 7, 2004.
3. “Fierce Fighting With Sunnis and Shiites Spreads to 6 Iraqi Cities”, by Jeffrey Gettleman and Douglas Jehl, New York Times, April 7, 2004.
4. “Son of the Hidden Imam preaches rebellion”, by Rory McCarthy, Guardian, April 6, 2004.
5. “Shia Revolt plunges Iraq into deeper chaos”, by Nicolas Pelham, Financial Times, April 6, 2004.
6. “U.S. Marines Face Tough Urban Warfare in Falluja Assault”, Associated Press, April 6, 2004.
7. “Coalition battling al-Sadr supporters in Najag”, CNN, April 6, 2004.
8. see note 5.
9. “‘I am ready to shed my blood’”, by Rory McCarthy, Guardian, April 7, 2004.
10. see note 4.
11. “12 Marines Believed Dead in Fight in Iraqi City, Military Says”, by Christine Hauser and Kirk Semple, New York Times, April 6, 2004.
12. see note 7.
13. see note 7.