The Victory of Popular Resistance in Occupied Iraq

On February 15, 2005, following the election held in January, the still unified “Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces” met at the Umm Al-Qura mosque in Baghdad to discuss “proposals aiming at restoring Iraq’s full independence, unity and sovereignty.” Twenty-one groups were represented at the meeting, including al-Sadr’s Current Party, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Patriotic Front for the Liberation of Iraq, the Progressive Union of Iraqi Students, two women’s groups, a Communist Party, a Socialist Party and the National Democratic Party. Their joint statement made a clear distinction between resistance and terrorism: “Acknowledgment of the principle of the right of the Iraqi people to reject occupation; recognition of the Iraqi Resistance and its legitimate right to defend its country and its resources; rejection of terrorism that takes aim at innocent Iraqis, facilities and institutions of public utility, and places of worship—mosques, Shia religious centers, churches and all holy places.”


But, with the recruitment, training, and deployment of the Special Police, the Resistance would soon face a new enemy, most notably in a dirty war against the secular middle class neighborhoods of Baghdad where Iraqi civil society survived across sectarian and ethnic lines. The election had pitted Shiite Islamists, backed by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, against the CIA’s Ayad Allawi. Turnout was officially 58 percent, the Shiite alliance only won about half the votes cast and there were effective boycotts in Anbar province and elsewhere, and the mandate for a religiously based government had no precedent or real popular support in Iraq. A poll taken a year earlier found that only 21 percent of Iraqis wanted an “Islamist” state and that only 14 percent preferred religious politicians and parties over secular ones. By presenting the public with such limited and compromised choices, the U.S. experiment in “managed democracy” ensured a government that could rule only by force and that would still need American firepower to protect it from its own people.


On April 4, 2005, the Interior Ministry announced the expansion of the Special Police to 24 battalions. Generals Thavit and Abu Walid were by then household names, thanks to a grotesque “reality TV” program called “Terrorism in the Grip of Justice,” in which a parade of badly beaten Iraqis confessed to resistance activities, gruesome murders, and often homosexuality for good measure, on the U.S.-backed Al-Iraqiya television station. The program was quickly linked to real crimes when the body of a policeman who “confessed” to killing two of his fellow officers was delivered to his family a few days after his confession was broadcast.


As the U.S.-backed transitional government prepared to take office, the head of the Badr Brigade militia, Bayan al-Jabr, was appointed as its Interior Minister. Steven Casteel remained in Baghdad as his senior U.S. adviser. The Los Angeles Times reported that the new government planned to “unleash well- trained Iraqi commandos in Baghdad and other trouble spots,” adding that, “The special forces units have a reputation for effectiveness and brutality.” Commandos raided some Sunni mosques in Baghdad and Baquba in April, killing a local imam (Islamic leader). General Abu Walid of the Wolf Brigade made no secret of what was to come, “We are studying Baghdad now to be ready for any mission we are assigned. Baghdad is filled with terrorists.”


The first evidence of the Special Police commandos’ dirty war in Baghdad was the discovery of 14 bodies in a shallow grave in the Kasra-Wa-Atash industrial district. The bodies bore classic signs of torture, including broken skulls, other broken bones, and burns. Many had their right eyeballs removed. They were identified as 14 farmers who had been arrested at a vegetable market on May 5. They were from Maidan where occupation forces had recently met armed resistance and the message to the people of Maidan was graphic and clear—that this was the price they should expect to pay for resisting the occupation.


In successive weeks, months, and years, tens of thousands of men and boys in Baghdad met similar fates, leading ultimately to the ethnic cleansing of the city. The tide of deaths would peak in 2006 with more than 1,600 bodies of extra-judicial execution victims delivered to morgues each month between July and October, under cover of the U.S. Operations Together Forward I and II. In April 2006, an Iraqi human rights group, the Organization for Follow-Up and Monitoring, matched thousands of morgue records with reports of arrests and abductions. It found that 92 percent of the bodies brought to the morgues matched the names and descriptions of people who had been detained by Interior Ministry forces.


Sunni Arabs were the main targets and many of the Special Police commandos involved had backgrounds in the Iranian-trained Badr Brigades. But the Western perception of “sectarian violence” and of a long history of communal violence in Iraq was a myth, albeit one that obscured the fact that these crimes were committed by Iraqi paramilitary forces recruited, trained, and armed by the United States. These forces operated under U.S. command through a jointly staffed command center and Special Police Transition Teams (SPTT) comprised mainly of U.S. special forces officers.


Settling and Civilizing


In reality, the conversion of the majority of Iraqi Arabs to the Shiite form of Islam did not take place until the late 19th century. Formerly nomadic tribes began to settle in newly fertile areas around Najaf and Karbala following the completion of the Hindiyya Canal in 1803. The Ottoman policy of “settling” and “civilizing” the tribes led to a sweeping Ottoman property privatization law in 1869 that transformed tribal leaders into wealthy landlords and their tribespeople into poor farmers. By 1905, 72 percent of the population of southern Iraq were agricultural workers, while only 19 percent still led traditional nomadic lives. By the time of the 1958 revolution, 1 percent of the population owned 55 percent of the agricultural land in Iraq.


At the same time, the Persian clerics in the Shiite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala saw the chance to build a new base of financial and political support by converting the newly settled tribes to Shiism. The Ottoman government supported this as part of its “settlement” policy, and the tribespeople embraced new identities and loyalties that gradually took the place of their traditional nomadic culture. The first British census in occupied Iraq in 1919 found that 53 percent of Iraqis now identified themselves as Shiites.


The main trends in 20th century Iraq were nationalism, secularism, and urbanization. Influential Shiites controlled the Ministry of Education in the 1930s, and their leader, Salih Jabir, became prime minister in 1947. In the 1950s, urbanized Shiites played major roles in the parties that formed the United National Front against the monarchy: Jabir’s Popular Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the National Democratic Party, and the Baath Party. The Baathists were led by Fuad al-Rikabi, a young Shiite engineer from Nasiriyah. But exposure to modern education and culture, and the influence of the Communist Party eroded religious observance and sectarian identity among urban Shiites. 


Although Saddam Hussein’s inner circle included a small group of his relatives and fellow Tikritis, and Sunni Arabs dominated the officer corps of the Iraqi Army, as they had since 1920, Shiite Arabs held a majority in the broader leadership of the Baathist government. A researcher at the U.S. Library of Congress noted in 1990, “Observers believed that in the late 1980s Shias were represented at all levels of the party roughly in proportion to their numbers in the population…. On the Regional Command Council—the ruling body of the party—Shias actually predominated.”


Raed Jarrar and other Iraqis have examined the ethnicity of the 55 Iraqis depicted on the pack of playing cards issued to U.S. invasion forces in 2003 as targets for death or capture. They concluded that about 35 out of 55 were Shiite Arabs. So Iraqis were understandably baffled by American propaganda that conflated Sunnism with Baathism. As the Iraqi blogger Riverbend wrote in 2006, “Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind that most of his government were Shia).”


Since the majority of Baathist officials were Shiites, we must conclude that American officials had ulterior reasons to demonize Sunnis, link them to Baathism, and unleash genocidal violence against them. This strategy enabled the Americans to present themselves as the guardians of the majority Shiite population and the Kurds and to forestall the united resistance that the CIA had warned of in November 2003. “Divide and rule” policies require occupying powers to identify and target ethnic and political groups in this way and the Americans were prepared to use as much force as necessary and destroy secular Iraqi society in the process. Although the violence of the occupation was a full frontal assault on Iraqi civil society that transcended sect and ethnicity, it eventually killed at least 10 percent of the Sunni Arab population and drove about half of the Sunni Arabs in Iraq out of their homes, either into exile or internal displacement. This was a prima facie case of genocide by U.S. political and military leaders.


Framing its war in Iraq as part of a larger war against Islamic extremism led U.S. propaganda to exaggerate or invent religious or sectarian motives for the Iraqi Resistance. But Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times surveyed resistance fighters in U.S. custody in Iraq in March 2008 and found that only a third of them claimed any religious motivation. Among juvenile detainees, only 10 percent were driven by religion. Despite persistent efforts by American propagandists to cast the violence of the occupation in religious or sectarian terms, the Iraqi Resistance maintained a primarily secular and nationalist orientation.


U.S.-Led Death Squads; “Sectarian Violence”


As the Special Police Commandos were unleashed on Baghdad in May 2005, their role in atrocities was quickly recognized and reported in the international Arab media. Two of the seven victims of an extra-judicial execution behind a mosque in Ore on May 15 survived and identified their would-be executioners as members of the Wolf Brigade. One of the survivors was then taken from his hospital bed by Interior Ministry forces and never seen again. Hareth al-Dari of the Muslim Scholars’ Association told Islam Online on May 17, “The mass killings and the crackdown and detention campaigns in northeastern Baghdad over the past two days by members of the Iraqi police or by an Interior Ministry special force known as the Wolf Brigade are part of a state terror policy.” Even the commander of the Iraqi National Guard confirmed that the Wolf Brigade was the unit responsible for these operations.


Muqtada al-Sadr made a rare public appearance to prohibit his followers from taking part in this campaign. “Any action targeting unarmed civilians is forbidden under any circumstances,” he said in Najaf. “All Sunnis cannot be held responsible for the terrorist deeds of the occupiers and the Wahabis.” He reiterated this warning again two months later, adding, “The occupation itself is the problem. Iraq not being independent is the problem. And other problems stem from that—from sectarianism to civil war. The entire American presence causes this.”


On May 19, the Arab League discussed the new pattern of violence in Iraq at a meeting in Cairo. Secretary General Amr Moussa urged “all Iraqi parties to show restraint and act responsibly in the face of those who try to sow the seeds of discord between Iraq’s communities.”


But American reporting on the emerging dirty war in Baghdad quickly took an Orwellian turn. Steven Casteel was regularly quoted blaming torture and executions on “insurgents” in stolen police uniforms. Knight Ridder’s Yasser Salihee conducted a thorough investigation, but he was shot and killed by an American sniper before his work could be published. When it posthumously published the results of Salihee’s work, Knight Ridder pointed out that Casteel’s claims were not consistent with the numerous eyewitness accounts of Special Police raids that Salihee had collected, but it failed to follow up on its own questions, “about how insurgents are getting expensive new police equipment. The Toyotas, which cost more than $55,000 apiece, and Glocks, at about $500 each, are hard to come by in Iraq, and they’re rarely used by anyone other than Western contractors and Iraqi security forces.”


But Salihee’s investigations had already established that none of these cases involved small groups of men with police uniforms and one or two police vehicles. They all involved well-organized raids by large groups of Special Police commandos with 10 to 30 clearly-marked police vehicles and the full complement of equipment issued to the commandos by their American trainers. This included radios connected to U.S. military networks via the high-tech Special Police Command Center, which was staffed by American as well as Iraqi personnel.


The response of U.S. officials to these crimes gradually transitioned from a narrative of “insurgents in stolen police uniforms” to one of “sectarian violence.” Once the perpetrators’ links to the occupation government could no longer be denied, they were deemed irrelevant to their crimes, which were, instead, presented as the result of the infiltration of legitimate security forces by Shiite militias. The term “Shiite militia” obscured the critical distinction between Special Police commandos (including Badr Brigade militia) operating as death squads for the occupation government and, on the other side, local Mahdi militiamen trying to defend their neighborhoods from raids by U.S.-led forces.


By July 2005, the Guardian was able to identify six facilities in Baghdad where torture was taking place: the seventh floor of the Interior Ministry; al-Hadoud prison in the Kharkh district; the basement of a clinic in Shoula; al-Muthanna airbase; the old National Security headquarters; and the Nissor Square headquarters of the Wolf Brigade. Credible reports of torture included the use of hot irons and electric drills and of being “sat on the bottle,” a brutal form of sodomy. The seventh floor of the Interior Ministry was one floor below the offices of U.S. advisers and the reputed headquarters of the CIA in Baghdad.


In September 2005, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq published the first of many Human Rights Reports, with more details of atrocities committed by the Special Police. John Pace, the author of the report, left Iraq in February 2006 and gave several interviews, in which he identified Interior Minister Bayan al-Jabr as the commander of the Badr Brigade militia, confirmed that U.S. officials knew about torture in Iraqi prisons, and estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the victims were innocent of any crime, making their plight all the more frightful. Asked to compare the U.S.-led reign of terror with that of Saddam Hussein, he said, “It is certainly as bad. It extends over a much wider section of the population.”


The horrors of the Interior Ministry’s prisons were publicly exposed when a U.S. regular army unit discovered the al-Jadiriyah interrogation center. U.S. officials expressed shock at the discovery, but one official finally admitted eight months later that, “The military had been at the bunker prior to the raid in November, but they said nothing.” A UN investigation found that 101 of the 168 prisoners had been tortured and that at least 18 others had already been tortured to death. One of the prisoners was Professor Tareq Sammaree (PhD Kansas), the former director of Baghdad University’s School of Education. He was missing his front teeth and three toenails, he had a wound on his shin caused by a hot skewer, and his spine was damaged by beatings with electric cables. His captors had also threatened to rape his daughters if he did not reveal the locations of other academics they were searching for, but Dr. Sammaree kept silent because he was convinced that he would be killed as soon as his captors thought he had told them all he knew. He was hospitalized after the U.S. raid and escaped from the hospital with the help of an American soldier. He then smuggled his family out of Iraq and sought political asylum in Europe.


In the wake of the “discovery” of al-Jadiriyah, the Special Police were rebranded as the National Police. The New York Times questioned former interim Interior Ministry Falah al-Naqib about the composition of these forces. The U.S. propaganda narrative blamed the atrocities on their infiltration by “Shiite militias,” but Naqib admitted that “the majority of commando officers working in the ministry now were appointed by him.” He acknowledged recruiting many members of the Badr Brigade, although “not nearly as many as Mr. Jabr.” Naqib’s statement confirmed that, despite their expansion and deployment in Baghdad under Jabr, the nature and composition of these forces was largely consistent from their inception under Allawi, Negroponte, Casteel, Steele, and himself in 2004 through the depths of the dirty war in Baghdad in 2005 and 2006.


The role of U.S. Special Police Transition Teams working with these forces throughout this period is also well documented. Each Iraqi unit generally had at least two U.S. officers attached to it, usually from U.S. Special Forces units. In November 2005, the U.S. advisers attached to the Wolf Brigade were from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the “Nightstalkers.” One of these officers blogged about taking part in a battalion-sized operation in southern Baghdad on November 10 that netted “vehicle after vehicle of blindfolded detainees.”


The Ethnic Cleansing Of Baghdad


The dirty war in Baghdad presented the Iraqi Resistance with a new challenge. The murderous assault on neighborhoods that resisted the occupation caused more families to flee the capital and the sectarian basis on which the attacks were targeted left Sunni and mixed secular districts more isolated. But it also united communities like Adhamiya, Dora, Mansour, and Iskan in increasingly effective resistance to the Interior Ministry death squads. By early 2006, the failure of the National Police to break the back of the Resistance led to a U.S. plan to escalate the direct use of U.S. forces in Baghdad, effectively providing air and ground support to the death squads in what one of the plan’s proponents, Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute, described as a “second liberation of Baghdad.”


The first evidence of this campaign was a new assault on Adhamiya by National Police Commandos, supported by U.S. troops and observed by U.S. helicopters overhead throughout the operation. Following Special Police raids in 2005, in which residents were arrested, tortured, and murdered, community leaders negotiated a deal with U.S. and Iraqi officials by which the Iraqi National Guard could patrol the neighborhood as long as Interior Ministry forces were kept out. This had worked well for the community. When the Special Police tried to conduct another raid, a National Guard officer tipped off the Resistance and even provided weapons for the residents to defend themselves. The community had also used the respite to barricade entrances to the neighborhood with tree trunks and tires and to step up the organization and training of residents by experienced resistance fighters.


Then, at about 1:00 AM on the night of April 16, 40 National Police vehicles stormed into Adhamiya from three directions, including through a U.S. checkpoint on a bridge. When they withdrew after two hours of heavy fighting, nine local men and one woman were dead, along with at least one police commando—and six of the police vehicles had been immobilized and torched. Residents reported U.S. ground troops supporting the Interior Ministry forces, but only observing at this stage. Later, U.S. forces and Iraqi National Guards re-entered Adhamiya and attacked Resistance forces defending the local police station. After hours of sporadic fighting, a National Guard commander came forward to negotiate a truce with community leaders. He claimed that the entire operation had been based on a misunderstanding and that he and the Americans had believed “insurgents” were attacking the police station.


On the following day, the Iraqi National Guard resumed patrols in the neighborhood, but another fire-fight erupted with the local guards at the al-Anbia mosque, apparently triggered by someone seeking revenge for an earlier incident. U.S. troops again stormed Adhamiya with guns blazing, but soon withdrew. This entire operation appears to have been a probing mission to gauge Adhamiya’s defenses and this would explain the constant presence of U.S. helicopters observing the fighting.


The composition of the Iraqi Resistance units in Adhamiya contradicted the American narrative of “sectarian violence.” A resident who had seen four neighbors killed in March told the New York Times that her block was now protected by a “watch group” of seven men, both Sunnis and Shiites, who stood watch on rooftops every night from midnight until 6:00 AM. The National Police responded to increasingly effective resistance to nighttime raids by instead abducting people on their way to or from work, like the 14 young men driving home in a minibus from Sinek to the Slekh district who were abducted and killed in April 2006.


As a result of the election in December 2005, a new Iraqi government was finally seated in May 2006 and Bayan al-Jabr was replaced as Interior Minister by Jawad al-Bulani, who was expected in some quarters to clean up the excesses of the Interior Ministry death squads. Bulani signed 52 arrest warrants for officials implicated in torture and extra-judicial killing, but Kofi Annan noted in a report several months later that the warrants had not been served. It soon became clear that Jabr’s deputy, another Badr Brigade commander named Adnan al-Asadi, had remained in his post and retained effective control over the National Police. Al-Asadi has remained in that position and was spotted directing operations from a roof-top against peaceful “Arab Spring” protesters in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on the “Day of Martyrs,” March 4, 2011, when at least 24 protesters were killed.


Operation Together Forward


The first of the new U.S. offensives, Operation Together Forward, began on June 24, 2006. It was superseded by Operation Together Forward II in August. Fifteen thousand additional U.S. troops were deployed to Baghdad to conduct joint operations with Iraqi Army and National Police units. The stated objective was to target both Sunni resistance fighters and Shiite death squads. But when General Thurman announced the districts to be targeted, four out of five were the same Sunni or mixed secular neighborhoods that had already been under attack by National Police death squads for over a year: Adhamiya, Dora, Mansour, and Ghazaliya.


Some American junior officers and troops soon realized that their Iraqi partners in this operation were none other than the death squads who were one of its nominal targets, but they depended on the Iraqis for their “intelligence” and individual U.S. troops in the field could not do much to affect the nature of the campaign. The effect of the two Operation Together Forwards was to reinforce the death squad campaign, propelling it to a climax in which with thousands of corpses overwhelmed the morgues. The 1,600 bodies of extra-judicial execution victims brought to morgues in July were double the death toll in February. The death toll continued to rise until October and only began to decline in November after Operation Together Forward ended.


Operations by Iraqi resistance forces continued to rise in parallel with the U.S. escalation, running at 500 attacks per week against U.S. forces and 200 per week against U.S.-led Iraqi forces in July and August 2006. But the escalation of state-supported violence in Baghdad succeeded in one respect. It started to drive large numbers of people from their homes. The UN reported that the four months of Operation Together Forward I & II almost doubled the number of people internally displaced in Iraq, from 300,000 to 583,000. Half the population of Adhamiya had fled by early 2007. The year 2006 saw the largest migration of people, leaving five million Iraqis living as refugees by 2008. An estimated 40 percent of the professional class eventually fled the country, including more than half the surviving doctors—after at least 2,000 doctors were killed.


In July 2006, Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, met with Iraqi torture victims in Amman, Jordan. He told German public television, “Many of them credibly report that in their view the situation is now worse than it was under Saddam Hussein. Under his dictatorship there was also terrible torture, but one could at least predict who would have to fear being tortured. Today, on the other hand, the security situation is out of control to such an extent that in the final analysis every person can become a victim of abductions, summary executions, and the worst methods of torture: people’s limbs are being amputated, their fingers are missing, their eyes have been put out.”


Operation Together Forward I & II were followed by the so-called “Surge” in 2007, a massive escalation of U.S. firepower that included a five-fold increase in air strikes and an increase in assassination operations by U.S. Special Forces. Despite reductions in violence between Iraqis, the rate of U.S. air strikes did not peak until January 2008, with 400 conducted that month. The “Surge” was a devastating climax to five years of bombardment, torture, murder, and collective punishment inflicted on the people of Iraq. After some tribal leaders in Anbar province and local warlords in Baghdad were bought off, remaining resistance-held areas were targeted with overwhelming firepower, mainly from the air.


As the prospect emerged that the “Surge” might lead to a genuine U.S. withdrawal, Muqtada al-Sadr ordered a Mahdi militia ceasefire in August 2007, which he later extended indefinitely. Al-Sadr and the millions of Iraqis who support him have walked a fine line in a difficult environment, resisting occupation while also retaining influence in the National Assembly and within the U.S.-backed government. Hundreds of thousands of them took to the streets in October 2008 to pressure the Maliki government over its proposed Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. and they remain ready to take up arms again if the Americans fail to honor their commitment to a full withdrawal by December 2011.


American leaders hailed the “Surge” as a successful operation that reduced the level of violence in Iraq. These claims were based on the false premise that Iraqi resistance forces were the source of the violence sweeping the country and that the escalation of U.S. military operations finally defeated these forces. In fact, U.S. occupation forces and their allies were the perpetrators of most of the violence in Iraq throughout the war, and their invasion and occupation of Iraq was the cause of all of it. It was therefore entirely possible at any point for the occupation forces to achieve a reduction in violence by scaling back their own operations, as they finally did after the “Surge” in 2008.




For eight years of U.S. occupation, Iraqis resisted the excessive and indiscriminate use of powerful battlefield weapons against civilian targets, coupled with a dirty war that enlisted the worst of our soldiers and theirs to murder and torture them by the tens of thousands. But the steadfast Iraqi resistance eventually made continued occupation counter-productive for the United States.


Iraqi resistance also made it impossible for the Maliki government to survive politically without establishing its independence from U.S. interests. Maliki earned whatever small measure of legitimacy he now holds by standing up to the U.S. over the Status of Forces Agreement, the Hydrocarbon Law, and other issues. The U.S. goal of privatizing the Iraqi oil industry through Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) with Western companies was scuttled by the steadfast opposition of the Iraqi National Assembly, the General Union of Oil Employees, and the public. The Iraqi Resistance ensured that the U.S. goal of building long-term military bases in Iraq would carry a virtually unlimited price tag of endless guerilla war and instability, making it futile and unsustainable.


The Obama administration launched a “civilian surge” in Iraq, doubling the already bloated deployment of State Department staff at the U.S. Embassy and other offices to 2,400 and hiring 5,500 mercenaries to protect them after U.S. forces withdrew. But there was very little that the State Department could do to salvage the U.S. position in Iraq. Trade figures for 2010 show that, apart from a short-lived bonanza for military contractors and significant oil imports, U.S. firms have not “followed the flag” into Iraq. The firms exporting goods and services to Iraq as it starts to recover from years of war and occupation are from Turkey, Iran, China, Syria, and the European Union. The American occupiers are the last people on Earth that Iraqis want to do business with and Obama’s civilian surge can do very little to mitigate this total, self-inflicted, multi-faceted defeat for U.S. commercial and geopolitical interests.


As the Arab Spring plays out across the Middle East, the U.S-backed government in Iraq has behaved exactly as its neighbors have done, shooting, detaining and torturing peaceful protesters, and using every means of state power to break up or prevent demonstrations. But tens of thousands of people flooded the squares in cities all over Iraq in February, March and April 2011 for a “Day of Rage,” a “Day of Martyrs,” a “Day of Truth,” and a “Friday of the Free.”


Asma al-Haidari took part in the “Friday of the Free” rally in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on April 15, while 5,000 people—Sunnis and Shiites from all over Iraq—camped out in the Square of the Free in Mosul for more than a week. Others took to the streets in Basra, Sulaymaniya and in Anbar, Babil and Diwaniya provinces. Here are some of Asma’s thoughts about the demonstrations: “…my tears are streaming down uncontrollably…it was amazing and enthralling. The crushed Iraqi middle class in all its colors and hues is out and will remain out—this is the beginning of civil disobedience—all very peaceful but full of force and commands respect and a bowing of our heads to them. The women who are in Tahrir are in the hundreds—all women whose sons or husbands have disappeared in Maliki’s and the occupation’s secret prisons—Iraqis have broken the chains—the world should watch out, but the world is so silent and apparently deaf and blind as well. Can’t the world see that this revolution is totally different, that we are a people and a country under occupation, and that we have slowly started to take our rights back and to free ourselves?”


In Mosul, American helicopters flew over and dumped bags of garbage on the protesters. According to Asma, “When the people in the Square of the Free were asked for comments, their answers were that the Americans throw garbage at us every day—all the enriched uranium; all the white phosphorus; all the drugs and AIDS; all the disease, tyranny, oppression, plunder, theft, lies, and illiteracy they brought with them among much more—so we, Iraqis, know everything and we will have justice at the end of the day when a new dawn comes—the feeling is that it is going to be quite soon.”


For Americans who share a personal commitment to peace and non-violence, armed resistance poses a special problem. It would be hypocritical in the extreme for American activists to condemn a resistance movement that emerged only in response to the violence unleashed by our own country. Even the UN Charter, which binds all countries to settle their differences by peaceful means, nevertheless recognizes the “inherent” nature of the right to self-defense. Tragically, though, we understand only too well how armed resistance is used to justify even greater violence by those responsible for all the violence in the first place. U.S. propaganda seized on the armed resistance movement in Iraq to justify years of aerial bombardment, mass incarceration, torture, indiscriminate and excessive uses of force, and the destruction of the entire country. At least a million Iraqis were killed, and the high proportion of women (5 percent), children (9 percent) and elderly people (4 percent) among the dead makes it clear that much of the slaughter was indiscriminate. Air strikes were the leading cause of violent death for children in occupied Iraq, highlighting the inherently indiscriminate nature of air-launched weapons, “precision” or otherwise.


The final outcome remains uncertain, but the Iraqi Resistance has achieved an important victory. At enormous cost, it has established that the United States can no more dictate the future of West Asia by the direct use of military force than it could dictate the future of South-east Asia by the same means a generation ago. In a world where the United States stands alone as the only country in the world that is committed to the global threat and use of military force in violation of the United Nations Charter, its effective defeat at the hands of the Iraqi Resistance is an important step in our world’s halting progress toward universal and lasting peace. 


Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq (Nimble Books, 2010). He presented this paper at the Peace History Society conference at Barry University in Miami on October 21, 2011. Photo 1: Iraqi resistance soldier. Photo2: Wounded troops. Photo 3: Mall destruction.