By Tariq Ali
03 November, 2003
weeks ago, Pentagon inmates were invited to a special in-house showing
of an old movie. It was the Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo's anti-colonial
classic, initially banned in France. One assumes the purpose of the
screening was purely educative. The French won that battle, but lost
At least the Pentagon understands that the resistance in Iraq is following
a familiar anti-colonial pattern. In the movie, they would have seen
acts carried out by the Algerian maquis almost half a century ago, which
could have been filmed in Fallujah or Baghdad last week. Then, as now,
the occupying power described all such activities as "terrorist".
Then, as now, prisoners were taken and tortured, houses that harboured
them or their relatives were destroyed, and repression was multiplied.
In the end, the French had to withdraw.
As American "postwar"
casualties now exceed those sustained during the invasion (which cost
the Iraqis at least 15,000 lives), a debate of sorts has begun in the
US. Few can deny that Iraq under US occupation is in a much worse state
than it was under Saddam Hussein. There is no reconstruction. There
is mass unemployment. Daily life is a misery, and the occupiers and
their puppets cannot provide even the basic amenities of life. The US
doesn't even trust the Iraqis to clean their barracks, and so south
Asian and Filipino migrants are being used. This is colonialism in the
epoch of neo-liberal capitalism, and so US and "friendly"
companies are given precedence. Even under the best circumstances, an
occupied Iraq would become an oligarchy of crony capitalism, the new
cosmopolitanism of Bechtel and Halliburton.
It is the combination
of all this that fuels the resistance and encourages many young men
to fight. Few are prepared to betray those who are fighting. This is
crucially important, because without the tacit support of the population,
a sustained resistance is virtually impossible.
The Iraqi maquis
have weakened George Bush's position in the US and enabled Democrat
politicians to criticise the White House, with Howard Dean daring to
suggest a total US withdrawal within two years. Even the bien pensants
who opposed the war but support the occupation and denounce the resistance
know that without it they would have been confronted with a triumphalist
chorus from the warmongers. Most important, the disaster in Iraq has
indefinitely delayed further adventures in Iran and Syria.
One of the more
comical sights in recent months was Paul Wolfowitz on one of his many
visits informing a press conference in Baghdad that the "main problem
was that there were too many foreigners in Iraq". Most Iraqis see
the occupation armies as the real "foreign terrorists". Why?
Because once you occupy a country, you have to behave in colonial fashion.
This happens even where there is no resistance, as in the protectorates
of Bosnia and Kosovo. Where there is resistance, as in Iraq, the only
model on offer is a mixture of Gaza and Guantanamo.
Nor does it behove
western commentators whose countries are occupying Iraq to lay down
conditions for those opposing it. It is an ugly occupation, and this
determines the response. According to Iraqi opposition sources, there
are more than 40 different resistance organisations. They consist of
Ba'athists, dissident communists, disgusted by the treachery of the
Iraqi Communist party in backing the occupation, nationalists, groups
of Iraqi soldiers and officers disbanded by the occupation, and Sunni
and Shia religious groups.
The great poets
of Iraq - Saadi Youssef and Mudhaffar al-Nawab - once brutally persecuted
by Saddam, but still in exile, are the consciences of their nation.
Their angry poems denouncing the occupation and heaping scorn on the
jackals - or quislings - help to sustain the spirit of resistance and
I'll spit in the jackals' faces/ I'll spit on their lists/ I'll declare
that we are the people of Iraq/ We are the ancestral trees of this land.
And Nawwab: And
never trust a freedom fighter/ Who turns up with no arms/ Believe me,
I got burnt in that crematorium/ Truth is, you're only as big as your
cannons/ While those who wave knives and forks/ Simply have eyes for
In other words,
the resistance is predominantly Iraqi - though I would not be surprised
if other Arabs are crossing the borders to help. If there are Poles
and Ukrainians in Baghdad and Najaf, why should Arabs not help each
other? The key fact of the resistance is that it is decentralised -
the classic first stage of guerrilla warfare against an occupying army.
Yesterday's downing of a US Chinook helicopter follows that same pattern.
Whether these groups will move to the second stage and establish an
Iraqi National Liberation Front remains to be seen.
As for the UN acting
as an "honest broker", forget it - especially in Iraq, where
it is part of the problem. Leaving aside its previous record (as the
administrator of the killer sanctions, and the backer of weekly Anglo-American
bombing raids for 12 years), on October 16 the security council disgraced
itself again by welcoming "the positive response of the international
community... to the broadly representative governing council... [and]
supports the governing council's efforts to mobilise the people of Iraq..."
Meanwhile a beaming fraudster, Ahmed Chalabi, was given the Iraqi seat
at the UN. One can't help recalling how the US and Britain insisted
on Pol Pot retaining his seat for over a decade after being toppled
by the Vietnamese. The only norm recognised by the security council
is brute force, and today there is only one power with the capacity
to deploy it. That is why, for many in the southern hemisphere and elsewhere,
the UN is the US.
The Arab east is
today the venue of a dual occupation: the US-Israeli occupation of Palestine
and Iraq. If initially the Palestinians were demoralised by the fall
of Baghdad, the emergence of a resistance movement has encouraged them.
After Baghdad fell, the Israeli war leader, Ariel Sharon, told the Palestinians
to "come to your senses now that your protector has gone".
As if the Palestinian struggle was dependent on Saddam or any other
individual. This old colonial notion that the Arabs are lost without
a headman is being contested in Gaza and Baghdad. And were Saddam to
drop dead tomorrow, the resistance would increase rather than die down.
Sooner or later,
all foreign troops will have to leave Iraq. If they do not do so voluntarily,
they will be driven out. Their continuing presence is a spur to violence.
When Iraq's people regain control of their own destiny they will decide
the internal structures and the external policies of their country.
One can hope that this will combine democracy and social justice, a
formula that has set Latin America alight but is greatly resented by
the Empire. Meanwhile, Iraqis have one thing of which they can be proud
and of which British and US citizens should be envious: an opposition.
· Tariq Ali's
new book, Bush in Babylon: the re-colonisation of Iraq, is published
this week by Verso