First it was Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, who were leading a rump of diehard loyalists to regain power; then it was Saddam’s deputy, Izzat al-Douri, leading the same rump; then it was a leaderless rump of diehards who had no place in the new free and democratic Iraq; then it was foreign terrorists “flooding” into the country; then it was a fiendish foreign al-Qaida terrorist named Zarqawi who killed Shia mourners to start a Sunni-Shia civil war; then it got a bit confusing, with a creeping number of insurgent operations in the Shia quadrangle; then it got even more confusing with the Shias changing tactics and staging increasingly militant protest marches; and today we have Moqtada al-Sadr – an “unrepresentative” Shia radical cleric leading a tiny army of extremists who happen to be active in most of Iraq’s 18 governorates and who want to destroy the new free and democratic Iraq.
The 160,000 occupation forces, backed up by mass destruction technology, are now deemed insufficient in the fight against the Sunni diehards and the Shia unrepresentative extremists. Furthermore, many thousands of foreign fighters have indeed come “flooding” into Iraq – not terrorists sent by Bin Laden but mercenaries hired by the occupation authorities. Their role is to carry out dangerous tasks, to help reduce US army casualties. This is in addition to the Pentagon’s Israeli-trained special assassination squads. Iraqis now believe that some of the recent assassinations of scientists and academics were perpetrated by these hit-squads. A similar campaign of assassinations in Vietnam claimed the lives of 41,000 people between 1968 and 1971.
The unleashing of F16 fighter bombers, Apache helicopter gunships and “precisely” targeted bombs and tank fire on heavily populated areas is making the streets of Baghdad, Falluja and the southern cities resemble those of occupied Palestine. Sharon-style tactics and brutality are now the favoured methods of the US-led occupation forces – including the torture of prisoners, who now number well over 10,000.
There is little doubt that the resistance will spread to new areas of Baghdad and the south, with the intense anti-occupation feelings of the people turning into more militant forms of protest. The US-led invasion is daily being unmasked for what it is: a colonialist adventure being met by a resistance that will eventually turn into a an unstoppable war of liberation.
What went so wrong that the US-led war to “liberate” the Iraqi people turned into the daily slaughter of the victims of Saddam’s tyranny? The answer is simple: nothing has gone wrong. Despite the mythology, most Iraqis were strongly against the invasion from the start, though it has taken 12 months for the world’s media to report that.
What has changed is that many Iraqis have decided that the peaceful road to evict the occupiers is not leading anywhere. They didn’t need Sadr to tell them this. They were told it loudly and brutally a few days ago by a US Abraham tank, one of many facing unarmed and peaceful demonstrators not far from the infamous Saddam statue that was toppled a year ago. The tank crushed to death two peaceful demonstrators protesting against the closure of a Sadr newspaper by Paul Bremer, the self-declared champion of free speech in Iraq. The tragic irony wasn’t lost on Iraqis.
Nor did they fail to notice article 59 of the new US-engineered constitution, which puts the new US-founded Iraqi armed forces under the command of the occupation forces, which will, in turn, be “invited” to stay in Iraq by the new sovereign government after the “handover of power” in June. This occupation force will be backed up by 14 large US military bases and the biggest US embassy in the world, tellingly based at Saddam’s republican palace in Baghdad.
And lest anyone is still confused by the glib propaganda that it is all the fault of Sadr, it is important to remember the greatest mass demonstration in Iraq’s history, only days after the fall of Baghdad, when 4 million people converged on Karbala to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Their rallying cries then were “No to America, no to Saddam” and “No to the occupation” – a chant that has been repeated at many mass rallies since. Opposing Saddam’s tyranny was never the same thing as welcoming invasion and the tyranny of occupation.
It is ironic that, had Sadr’s political and social programme (towards the Kurdish people and women, for example), as distinct from his very popular anti-occupation stance, been more enlightened, he would have been much more popular. Indeed, he would probably have seen his Mahdi army grow to millions before Bremer’s resignation on June 30.
· Sami Ramadani was a political refugee from Saddam’s regime and is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University.