IRAQ: Resistance forces US about-face

Issue 

BY ROHAN PEARCE

On May 14, the US Army's Lieutenant-General David McKiernan announced that the almost daily attacks on the US-led occupation forces in Iraq were not being carried out by mere criminals after all, but by "regime elements". McKiernan admitted that they were acts of political resistance against the occupation.

McKiernan refused to concede that opposition was widespread, claiming it was confined to former supporters of Saddam Hussein's regime and Baath Party members. However, the May 29 Los Angeles Times, reporting a "riot" in the town of Hit, west of Baghdad, noted: "As in earlier incidents, the violence in Hit appeared to be driven — at least in part — by an exploding fury at living conditions that have plunged the lives of many Iraqis into chaos, including a widespread lawlessness and a lack of essential services such as drinking water, electricity and medical supplies."

According to the May 29 LA Times, "Already this week, ambushes carried out in Hadithah, Baghdad and [Fallujah] have left four US soldiers dead and 15 others wounded". Colonel David Perkins, who commands the US Army brigade that took Baghdad in April, bluntly told the May 15 LA Times: "It's like an insurgency."

While Hit's population is primarily Sunni Muslim, the minority which provided the support base for Hussein's regime, anger at the US troops is not merely a product of the destruction of Iraq and the humanitarian crisis that is gripping much of the country.

The views of Saleh Dayeh, a teacher at the nearby town of Mohammedi, reflect the feelings of many Iraqis. He told the May 29 LA Times: "They said they wanted to liberate Iraq, but this all shows it is just a game... Petrol is the property of the Iraqi people but now the Americans are stealing it. They are taking our property, our petrol and doing nothing for us."

While former Baathists, particularly those not reinstated in their jobs by the US, are no doubt organising against the invaders, the US claim that it is only pro-Hussein Iraqis (and Iranian agents, according to other US officials) who are resisting is a lie. Since the US-led invasion, massive and regular protests have taken place in cities and towns across Iraq, including Baghdad. The largest have been led predominantely by Shiite Muslims, who were harshly oppressed under Hussein's reign.

The trigger for the Hit "riot" was a house-to-house search conducted by US troops. Iraqis attacked US vehicles, the local police station and police cars. The May 29 LA Times reported that the local police force's cooperation with the US forces also infuriated residents. "The same men who harassed, intimidated and oppressed them under Hussein were at work [during the search]", noted the LA Times.

US plans to disband the Iraqi army also triggered a protest on May 24. Fifty soldiers marched in the city of Basra, a predominantly Shiite city. Speaking to a New York Times journalist, Iraqi lieutenant-colonel Ahmed Muhammad warned: "If they don't pay us, we'll start problems... We have guns at home. If they don't pay us, if they make our children suffer, they'll here from us."

In a tacit admission that opposition to the US occupation has not diminished, the Pentagon announced on May 28 that the number of troops in Iraq — presently some 160,000 US, British and allied soldiers — will not be reduced in the near future. Planned pull-outs have been postponed, while up to 20,000 extra troops are scheduled to arrive in Iraq. This is an about-face by Washington, as initial plans were predicated on a reduction in troop numbers after the fall of the Iraqi regime.

However, the problems were foreseen by some. On February 25, US General Eric Shinseki testified before the US Senate's armed services committee and said that an occupation of Iraq would require "something in the order of several hundred thousand troops" for several years.

In an interview with the Washington Post on May 26, the US ruler of Iraq, Paul Bremer, confirmed that the US occupation of Iraq would not be a short one: "Occupation is an ugly word, not one American feels comfortable with it, but it is a fact... President Bush has always said that we will be here as long as it takes to do the job, and not a day longer. At the same time, we should make sure we don't leave a day earlier."

Commenting on the nature of a future Iraqi government, Bremer said: "[Iraq under Hussein] was a system of government where virtually everything was ordered from above. We're not going to end up with another strongman here. But it will also not be the same as our democracy."

From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.

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