The long-awaited uprising in Iraq has begun – not to welcome the invaders as some imagined, but to demand their withdrawal. The spread of resistance to the south and the killing of British soldiers around Amara on Tuesday might have come as a surprise to the British public. But such developments have been anticipated within Iraq for several weeks.
The US administration is trying to convince us that it is the “remnants” of Saddam’s regime that are resisting the occupation. We are invited to believe that Saddam’s “fanatical” supporters, who were not prepared to die for him when he was in power, are engaged in astounding heroics after he has been deposed and the Iraqi state machine crushed. Much of the British media has been willing to go along with this deception, which helps to cover up the truth about the developing dirty war in Iraq.
It doesn’t need much investigation to see that Saddam’s tyrannical regime is being rapidly replaced by a tyranny of the occupation forces, who are killing Iraqi civilians and unleashing Vietnam-style “search and destroy” raids on Iraqi people’s homes. Meanwhile, Iraqis are making it abundantly clear that what they want is freedom, independence and democracy: the same burning desires they had during Saddam’s dictatorship. They have been marching in their millions since the downfall of the regime shouting “La Amreeka, La Saddam”: No to America, No to Saddam. This call is now uniting most Iraqis – with the notable and I believe temporary exception of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The invasion of Iraq has developed into a colonial war, while popular sentiment is far outstripping the political programmes of the main Iraqi political organisations. That is evident in the way they have rejected the plans put forward by Paul Bremer, the head of the US occupation administration, for an appointed advisory council and called for a speedy transfer of power to Iraqis.
Contrary to the mythology propagated in the US and British media, popular sentiment in Iraq was always strongly against the invasion. With very few exceptions, at no time did Iraqis confuse their hatred of Saddam’s brutal tyranny with their opposition to his White House sponsors. And popular opposition to the occupation and its terror tactics is the real force behind the rising tide of armed resistance.
All the signs are there. Massive and increasingly angry marches have been taking place throughout Iraq – including the British-occupied south – often triggered by local issues, such as the imposition of mayors. Figureheads appointed by the US and British in Basra, Karbala and Najaf have been assassinated. Fury has been mounting at the hundreds of Iraqis killed by the occupation forces since the fall of Baghdad – on top of the thousands killed in the war itself. The massacre of 18 civilian demonstrators in Falluja at the end of April was, for example, the trigger for the resistance there. And last week, the US 3rd Infantry Division forces began punitive demolitions, Sharon-style, of the family houses of those allegedly fighting against the occupation forces.
The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest religious authority in Iraq, has now issued a fatwa forbidding anyone from participating in Bremer’s unelected consultative body and called for free elections. Last Friday, Ayatollah Hakim, leader of the influential Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, warned that armed resistance would increase if the occupation didn’t come to a swift end. Bremer’s tactics in response have been ruthlessly clear: hit them hard and hit them early. And that includes organisations whose leaders he meets regularly, such as the Supreme Council and the Kurdish KDP, whose offices have been raided and trashed by US forces since their leaders spoke out against his plans to scrap elections.
Some have claimed it is in the interest of the US to establish democracy in Iraq in order to stabilise the region and create opportunities for US investment and reliable oil supplies. But such a rosy scenario failed to take account of the views of the Iraqi people and the history of their protracted struggles for freedom. The dawning of this reality on the US administration helps to explain why the occupation forces are increasingly resorting to terror tactics to subdue the Iraqi people.
It is certainly not in Britain’s interests to see the people of Iraq colonised and killed in their thousands. Nor is it right to sacrifice young British lives at the altar of US imperial designs. Only by bringing the troops home and putting pressure on the US to carry out an orderly withdrawal from Iraq – with a limited role for the UN, to supervise free and fair elections – can Britain return to the international fold of civilised conduct.
· Sami Ramadani is an Iraqi political exile and a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University.