It's not religious rivalry but the puppet regime that threatens stability
July 3, 2004
By Sami Ramadani
"They get their dead in neat caskets draped with a flag; we have to gather and scrape our dead off of the floors and hope the American shrapnel and bullets left enough to make a definite identification." So wrote the author of the weblog Baghdad Burning, as she tried to draw attention to the tragic reality of life in occupied Baghdad.
It is this bereavement and anger among Iraqis - some of it expressed in mortars and homemade bombs - that has forced Bush and Blair to abandon any fanfare and hand over "sovereignty" in a secret bunker guarded by tanks. Not one signal of popular joy greeted the historic event.
In a parallel but equally deceptive move, the US handed over Saddam's legal file but the tyrant is still in US custody. Saddam's defiance in court largely stems from the fact that many of his accusers - including Prime Minister Allawi, a former cadre of Saddam's Ba'ath party, and some of the non-Ba'athist forces represented in the transitional government - were allies of his regime. Many Iraqis feel that the US-appointed transitional government has no moral authority over the man in the dock, both because of their past association with his regime and because they came, in the words of a now common Iraqi saying, "on the backs of American tanks". As one Iraqi observed: "If they give Saddam a fair trial, they will all end up with him in the dock - Kissinger, Reagan, Thatcher, Blair, the two Bushes and Allawi."
The trial might succeed in serving short-term propaganda purposes in the west, but it will not hide the fact that in installing a protege government, the US has taken the most dangerous step on the road to civil war in Iraq.
The seeds of the Vietnam war were sown by the US installing a client regime in Saigon. And unless Bush and Blair are stopped by the American and British peoples, a similar catastrophe is in the making in Iraq and the wider Middle East. But it will not be a war of Arabs against Kurds, Sunnis against Shia or Muslims against Christians, but an equally devastating war between a US-backed minority (of all religions, sects and nationalities) against a similarly composed overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people. The killing fields of this war could eventually stretch from Afghanistan to Palestine.
Just like Iraq today, South Vietnam was seen by Washington as the line that must be held at all costs. But as the Vietnamese people's rejection of the client regime grew stronger, the US bunkered behind its creation in Saigon, and one million Vietnamese troops backed by half a million US soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of people were arrested and tortured; the total Vietnamese death toll topped 3 million, and 55,000 US soldiers were killed in action.
The US terror tactics in Vietnam (and more recently in Nicaragua and Honduras) are being gradually introduced into Iraq. US assassination squads and Mossad, for example, must be already active in Iraq, following the training of special US forces teams of "hitmen", with the help of Israeli experts, at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Israel several months ago - as reported by the distinguished American journalist Seymour Hirsh, a story which the Pentagon did not deny.
Thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the "end" of the war, adding to the uncounted thousands killed as collateral damage during it. And the occupation has blocked the democratic gains that Iraqis might have enjoyed after the collapse of Saddam's regime. For the US has long realised that the Iraqi people, if given the choice, would elect forces hostile to US policies.
Elections for deans in Iraq's universities were won by anti-occupation candidates, prompting the US to scrap elections for city mayors and oppose calls for early nationwide elections. The Union of the Unemployed quickly emerged as an effective campaigning force and the Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions resurfaced. In response, the US proconsul, Paul Bremer, resurrected the 1984 Saddam law banning all strikes in the public sector and ordered the arrest of the union's leaders. Meanwhile, the "democratic" institutions that Bremer tried to establish have all failed to strike a chord with the people. With the exception of limited free speech, which excludes "incitement" against occupation, there is nothing to show for so much death and destruction.
It has become fashionable to criticise the US for "having no plans" for Iraq after the fall of Saddam. The truth is that tens of policy committees drafted numerous plans. I know many Iraqi exiles who were well-paid to join these committees, which worked in the US before the invasion. All these plans crashed after colliding with the rock of the Iraqi people's opposition. Had most of the people been even mildly supportive of the invasion, these plans would have been implemented, and Bush and Blair might now be holding regular press conferences in downtown Baghdad. The Iraqi people's resistance has, for a period at least, thwarted US plans to attack Iran, Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and North Korea.
Though varied in political and social outlook, the opposition to the US-led presence, and the armed resistance (as distinct from terrorism), have been supported by most Iraqis and by the mosques.
Short of banning prayer itself, the mosque was one institution that Saddam couldn't crush, which explains their central role in opposing both Saddam's tyranny and the occupation. But the role of religion in Iraq is politically and socially contradictory. While the anti-occupation secular forces are concerned about the influence of Iraq's religious leaders, the latter are not all cut from the same cloth. Many are supportive of working with secular forces, holding democratic elections and protecting women's rights and those of the Kurdish people.
Some Shia and Sunni religious leaders formed an anti-sectarian front, the Muslim Scholars Committee. The MSC has organised demonstrations in Baghdad and other cities encouraging Muslims to unite and pray at each others' mosques, where secularpeople are also welcome. The committee invited over 30 secular and Christian organisations to attend the First Founding Iraqi Conference Against the US Occupation. This significant development attracted little media coverage, as it contradicts the notion that Iraqis are incapable of working collectively.
The western media predicted that civil war was imminent after explosions at Shia mosques killed hundreds of people in March. But instead, these explosions generated a massive show of unity across Iraq. People blamed the US (and Israel) for planning the atrocities or turning a blind eye to the perpetrators.
Bush and Blair continue to peddle the myth, beloved of old colonialists, that Iraqis will start a civil war if the "benevolent" presence of the occupation forces is removed. But there is nothing benevolent about their troops or their stooges. Allawi is not only a former Saddam operative and CIA "asset", but also the leader of the Iraqi National Accord, an organisation composed of former Saddamist officers. His appointment, and the torture at Abu Ghraib, are part of a systematic US policy of building new Saddamist-style state structures.
It is the US-led presence itself which is dividing Iraqis now. The US is deepening a split between a minority for and an overwhelming majority against the US-led forces. The immediate withdrawal of the US-led forces from Iraq is the only way to stop the impending "civil" war, in which the US will back a "sovereign" Iraqi government to crush the people and their aspirations for liberation and democracy.
Sami Ramadani is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University and was a political exile from Saddam's regime
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