Wednesday, July 06, 2005


A view of Iraq Americans should hear

Let me preface these excerpts from an article by Sami Ramadani by saying that I think he's oversimplified the situation. Iraqi public opinion is far from monolithic, and my reading is that there is a nuanced view of the occupation v. the resistance. Iraqis balance incidents in which the resistance kills a bunch of civilians or tortures and murders a journalist against Abu Ghraib, the devastation of Fallujah, and so on. But Ramadani captures one viewpoint that Americans, whatever they think, ought to hear: What actually happened [rather than sectarian violence] confounded such expectations. Within two weeks of the fall of Baghdad, millions converged on Karbala chanting "La Amreeka, la Saddam" (No to America, no to Saddam). For months, Baghdad, Basra and Najaf were awash with united anti-occupation marches whose main slogan was "La Sunna, la Shia; hatha al-watan menbi'a" (no Sunni, no Shia, this homeland we shall not sell). Such responses were predictable given Iraq's history of anti-sectarianism. But the war leaders reacted by destroying the foundations of the state and following the old colonial policy of divide and rule, imposing a sectarian model on every institution they set up, including arrangements for the January election. When it became clear that the poorest areas of Baghdad and the south were even more hostile to the occupation than the so-called Sunni towns - answering the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's call to arms - Bush and Blair tried to defeat the resistance piecemeal, under the guise of fighting foreign terrorists. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was promoted to replace Saddam as the bogeyman in chief, to encourage sectarian tension and isolate the resistance. This propaganda has been more successful abroad than in Iraq. Indeed, Iraqis habitually blame the occupation for all acts of terrorism, not what is fondly referred to as al-muqawama al-sharifa (the honourable resistance). But in Britain and the US many people feel ambivalent or antagonistic towards the mainstream popular resistance. Unfortunately, American military and paramilitary leaders appear to be succumbing to the same siren song that led the US to defeat in Vietnam: "You have to meet terror with terror." History proves that an occupier may be able to subjugate people this way, but it ends up with society that is eternally in opposition. The sentiment Ramadani expresses is real, at least among a portion of the population. Add more incidents like Abu Ghraib and Fallujah to the balance, and more people will see it as Ramadani portrays it. You do not win this way. No one does. Addendum: Riverbend has a post responding to Bush's speech that seems to me to capture the nuance in the situation: And Bush is extremely concerned with the mosques. He might ask the occupation forces in Iraq to quit attacking mosques and detaining the worshipers inside- to stop raiding them and bombing them and using them as shelters for American snipers in places like Falluja and Samarra. And the terrorists who sent a suicide bomber to a teaching hospital in Mosul? Maybe they got their cue from the American troops who attacked the only functioning hospital in Falluja.... We're so free, we often find ourselves prisoners of our homes, with roads cut off indefinitely and complete areas made inaccessible. We are so free to assemble that people now fear having gatherings because a large number of friends or family members may attract too much attention and provoke a raid by American or Iraqi forces.....As to Iraqi forces. There was too much to quote on the new Iraqi forces. He failed to mention that many of their members were formerly part of militias, and that many of them contributed to the looting and burning that swept over Iraq after the war and continued for weeks.... The forte of the new Iraqi National Guard? Raids and mass detentions. They have been learning well from the coalition. They sweep into areas, kick down doors, steal money, valuables, harass the females in the household and detain the men. The Iraqi security forces are so effective that a few weeks ago, they managed to kill a high-ranking police major in Falluja when he ran a red light, shooting him in the head as his car drove away. Iraqis don't seem to be for or against the occupation as an abstraction. They're against specific acts it has been doing and would be for other specific acts if the United States would just wake up and do them.
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