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Who is in resistance?

| 10 March 2009

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There is no other legitimate representative of the Iraqi people than its resistance. The first step towards peace in Iraq is for the US to end its denial and recognise it, write Hana Abdul Ilah Al Bayaty and Ian Douglas
The US occupation of Iraq has not only been an economic catastrophe and a political and moral disaster but also a resounding military failure. Despite its overwhelming firepower, the inequality of forces, and constant attempts to criminalise and hide the nature of the resistance the US army is facing, after six years the United States could not control Iraq, neither its people nor its territory nor its future. What are the reasons for this military defeat?

First of all, it must be understood that the Iraqi state and nation has been subject to sustained assault by imperial powers — mainly the US — for the past 18 years. The US and its allies have attempted to destroy Iraq as a state and a nation both physically, through military campaigns, and culturally, via the attempted cancellation of the concept of Iraqi citizenship and the destruction of Iraq’s unifying Arab Muslim identity. The US intended to divide Iraq into three or more weak and conflicting entities so as to ensure that Iraq could never re-emerge as a strong and unified economic, political and military power and would be rendered permanently subordinate to the United States. Iraq is a crossroads. Its land provides the necessary route for Iran to access and influence Syria, Jordan and the Mediterranean, and for Syria and Jordan as they look towards Iran and the Arabian Gulf basin. It is also the natural path from Turkey to the Gulf, and vice versa. The US goal was to control Iraq’s geopolitical and strategic median position, seize Iraq’s rich natural resources, while destroying the last remnant of official pan-Arabism so as to protect its proxy Israel whose historic role is to keep the Arab world off-balance and underdeveloped.

Before the 2003 invasion and subsequent destruction of Iraq, the majority of Iraqis sustained lives working in public institutions. Iraq was a welfare state based on the cultural understanding common to all in the Orient that the land and its riches is the property of the nation. Supported by the resources of the land, a large part of the population was employed in the education and health sectors, nationalised industries, and the national army. Since the agricultural reform of 1959, followed by the nationalisations of 1964, the middle class grew in number and expertise and guided state and society. Seventy per cent of the Iraqi population was urbanised.

The nationalisation of oil in 1971 led to the further enlargement of this middle class and elevated the living standards of the poorer sectors of the population. The US imperial plan, dating to 1990 but intensified with the military invasion, aimed at destroying this middle class, which is the inheritor of Iraqi culture, science, unity and dignity, striving for freedom, progress and development, thereupon subjugating the Iraqi people to a cabal and feudal comprador class of new and old thieves, rapists, marginal politicians, backward religious extremists, criminal gangs, and warlords that appeared or resurfaced in the situation created by the US occupation and whose interests are so conflicting that they are incapable of building a state.

It is evident that the US and its allies, even before the invasion, were running after an illusion. Why would the Iraqi people accept and welcome a plan that would deprive them of their national patrimony to the benefit of a few? The impoverished, the educated middle class, the working class that lost the benefit of nationwide services, women and the youth that suffers from unemployment and the absence of civil liberties, all reject US policy in Iraq. This is the source and base of what now and into the future will be a never-ending social struggle against the US occupation, foretelling its certain defeat and the defeat of its policies. Without the middle class, the US cannot build a functioning state. Without a functioning state there is nothing but robbery, abuse and corruption. Without building a functioning state the resources of society cannot be directed to develop its productive capacity and improve the wellbeing and the social and political force of the working classes. In attempting to destroy the Iraqi middle class, the basis of a developed, independent and unified Iraq, the US occupation put itself on a collision course with the entire Iraqi nation, not only by sentiment, but also by interest.

The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq cannot be separated from the prior 13 years of US policies towards Iraq. Indeed it is because — despite 13 years of indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing of both civilian and military facilities, collective economic punishment through genocidal sanctions, the disarming of Iraq’s defence capacities and its international isolation and demonization — the Iraqi people could not be subjugated that the US finally resorted to direct military occupation. Upon invasion, the US dismantled the Iraqi state and its institutions and disbanded Iraq’s armed forces. It attempted to destroy all that unites Iraqis, promoting the destruction of Iraqi society that resulted in an unspeakable crime against humanity of the brutal murder of more than 1.5 million Iraqi citizens, the displacement of six million more, with millions more maimed, widowed and orphaned.

Faced by the immense inequality of forces, and the impossibility to wage a frontal conventional war, Iraq’s 400,000 strong and well-experienced national army consciously dispersed, rejoining the population in whose defence it was schooled, waging a guerrilla war and guerre d’usure to defend Iraq’s sovereignty and the interests of the Iraqi people. While the dismantlement of the state and its apparatus and the intended breaking down of law and order effectively rendered the Iraqi population immensely vulnerable, left unprotected, Iraq left with no legitimate force to defend its territory, the US in fact destroyed all intermediaries between it and the Iraqi state and nation. It was therefore faced directly with the resistant population. Soon resistance became a social movement with different expressions in which all participate according to numberless respective capacities and situations, from civil to political to armed struggle, each and all standing in solidarity as Iraqis against the foreign occupier.

The backbone of the Iraqi resistance, naturally, is the highly experienced sovereign Iraqi army that did not capitulate, sign an armistice or an agreement with the invaders. That army is the military branch of the sovereign state of Iraq, illegally invaded in 2003. It has defended and continues to defend the Iraqi people, Iraq’s territorial unity and integrity as an Arab state, since 1921, as well the unity of the Arab nation.

As an institution an army is neither affiliated to a party nor to a government. It defends the people. In resisting foreign occupation it defends their interests by definition. All other state institutions having been dismantled, in resisting foreign domination it ensures the continuity of the Iraqi state. As the sovereignty of that state emanates from the people, and given that this people’s will is expressed in its refusal to capitulate to the occupation, the population itself, supporting the resistance in all its expressions, is the continuity of the Iraqi state and nation.

Given the character of the occupation and the overwhelming firepower and resources of the US army, the armed resistance understandably resorts to a war of attrition. Its goal of immobilising the occupation via hit and run operations cannot succeed without the participation of the entire population. Faced with a determined partisan army backed by its population, the occupying forces are helpless. Demoralised, their only solution is to repress the population as a whole and attempt to break its unity. Yet in this the US occupation in Iraq faces the force and intelligence of a 5000-year-old geopolitical and geo-social reality. Naively, the US thought that it could use the richness of Iraqi society, its historic cosmopolitanism and multi-confessional basis, to divide it along sectarian lines in order to control the whole. What US war planners could not see is that Iraq has been for thousands of years composed of numerous ethnicities and religious confessions living in solidarity with each other regardless of their differences. The values of a common life in a geographical area called Iraq or Mesopotamia unifies Iraqis. Those who know Iraq, its unifying Arab Muslim identity and its history, are aware that those who wish to divide Iraq and subjugate it will face the same cohesiveness of geopolitical, economic and social interests that ensured that no two states ever cohabited the basin now called Iraq. All Iraqis, whatever their ethnicity, religion, sect or social appurtenance, are inheritors of all successive Iraqi civilisations and their history.

Any attempt to forcibly change the will and interests of this historic entity, Iraqi society, necessarily militates towards a conscious strategy of genocide as it necessitates the liquidation of the population and its history. Yet any society with such deep lines of tradition and solidarity is only enhanced when faced with the military arm of a foreign invading power. To achieve its core goals, given the impossibility of confusing the interests of an occupied people with those of the occupation, the occupation needs to kill to the last man, woman and child. This cannot be achieved, and the more the attempt is made, the more it becomes impossible; the more legitimacy is given to resistance in the face of inhuman, wanton attacks.

For those in resistance it is not a case of fighting for revenge, but of opposing colonialism, imperialism and its policies, spurred by the reality of the genocidal methods these policies make obligatory on the occupying power. But no army of occupation, no matter how large or how brutal it is, can dispossess the Iraqi people of its patriotism and its identity. No occupation can usurp the historic formation that is Iraq. Hence no occupation force can replace the Iraqi state. Indeed, no foreign power was ever able to control Iraq. Iraq is a small country with great dignity, a sophisticated ancient civilisational legacy, and a very experienced national patriotic movement.

Neo-colonial strategy presents the aggressed population with one choice: resistance or collective death or disintegration. So long as it resists, it faces massive deliberate and indiscriminate attacks or the possibility of extinction in an overwhelming genocidal campaign, while if it submits it faces conditions of life that amount to genocide of another kind. Insofar as there is no choice except resistance and survival, popular resistance wages its struggle in the hope of debilitating the aggressor sufficiently enough as to slow him down and spark unrest within his domestic population, while not overly provoking him into launching an all out campaign of extermination. This cat and mouse guerrilla war of attrition will last as long as the occupation lasts and a political solution is absent (i.e., the withdrawal of the colonial state) and so long as the political will of the resisting population remains firm. After six years of US genocide in Iraq, the Iraqi people stand their ground and are proven unbreakable.

While the new US administration admitted that the invasion was wrong, it seems it is not changing its policies towards the results of that illegal state act. All that is derived from the illegal invasion is illegal and illegitimate and cannot be made legal or gain legitimacy. Only the national popular resistance is legal and legitimate in Iraq. The Iraqi resistance in all its expressions is the legal representative of the Iraqi people in being the continuity of the state. So long as US policies towards Iraq and its people refuse to recognise this resistance, there can be no peace. Only the national popular resistance in Iraq — armed, political and civil — is empowered, both as an objective fact and under international law, to determine a path towards peace and stability in Iraq. No other player, not US-installed stooge politicians in a 10-kilometre square “Green Zone”, can speak on behalf of the Iraqi people or embodies the Republic of Iraq.

So long as the US refuses to recognise this objective reality, it will be faced with the same failures and the Iraqi people will embrace their only strategic option and chance of survival: resistance; a resistance different and inventive in forms and methods of struggle but united in line and aims. The US could not and cannot break this people’s will to live free and sovereign in its land and future, and over its resources, as all other peoples in the world. The resistance’s legality and legitimacy is enshrined in numerous instruments of international law, including foundational and peremptory documents such as the UN Charter. If the US indeed wants peace and stability in Iraq it should recognise the national popular resistance as the only representative of the Iraqi people, its armed wing as a combatant army with all the legal protections that that entails, and as the continuity of the Iraqi state. Such recognition would be proof that the US has finally departed from its unilateral and illegal policies and aims to re-establish respect for international law and peaceful coexistence among nations. Its withdrawal from Iraq should be immediate and unconditional. There is no other peaceful way forward, for power is nothing without justice, and the imposition of power can never be just.

Hana Abdul Ilah Al Bayaty is coordinator of the Iraqi International Initiative on refugees (www.3iii.org). Ian Douglas is coordinator of the International Initiative to Prosecute US Genocide in Iraq (www.USgenocide.org). Both are members of The BRussells Tribunal (www.brusselstribunal.org).

This article was first published by the Swedish session of the World Tribunal on Iraq
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We negate and we must negate because something in us wants to live and affirm — Friedrich Nietzsche