by Gerry Foley / March 2005 issue of Socialist Action
Militarily, the Iraqi resistance has continued to strike against the U.S. and its allies since the election of the Interim National Assembly at the end of January. However, it seems to face a more serious threat of political isolation. The actions of the Iraqi resistance that have been reported in the big business press since the national vote have been basically confined to Sunni areas, and many of them have had an anti-Shiite character.
For example, there were a number of suicide bombings aimed at crowds of Shiites gathered to celebrate their principal religious holiday, Ashura. Associated Press
reported Feb. 7 that “Islamic extremists” were executing barbers to prevent Iraqi men from shaving off their beards.
At the same time, the U.S. military forces have been staging sweeps of towns in Anbar province and western Iraq that have been hotbeds of resistance. A report in the Feb. 24 Christian Science Monitor indicated that the U.S. military is exploiting sectarian divisions:
“The Marines have also come in with about 20 members of an Iraqi special forces unit called the Freedom Fighters. Unlike local Iraqi guard units, who are usually unwilling to fight, the freedom fighters are Shiites from the southern city of Basra, where uprisings against Saddam Hussein's regime were put down with the wholesale slaughter of civilians. There's little love between them and the Sunni Arab citizens of Anbar.”
The Washington Post had two features on Iraq in its Feb. 15 and 16 issues. The first stressed the division between the jihadist volunteers from other Arab countries and the local fighters. It cited the views of the local fighters as follows:
“He complained about foreign fighters, whom he blamed for Abu Shaiba's death. Well-financed, those men and Iraqi guerrillas who subscribe to their ideology have the upper hand, he said. He denounced the killing of Iraqi security forces, the car bombs that killed civilians, and the kidnappings and beheadings for which Falluja became known before it was retaken in November.”
The second stressed the demoralization of residents of Falluja, the Sunni city destroyed by the U.S. military with a condescension reminiscent of colonial days:
“’Saddam bad, George Bush good,’ one boy said, repeating a phrase the Marines said he often uses to get candy from them. It usually works.
“Another small girl has learned to follow the Marines throughout their hour-long patrol, pausing to shed crocodile tears when she does not get a piece of ‘chocolata, mister.’
When she tried to pick the pocket of a visitor who was with the Marines, the visitor
swatted her hand. She simply smiled and ran to a Marine ahead. ‘Chocolata, mister?’ she asked, peering up at him.”
The Christian Science Monitor’s accounts of the U.S. military sweeps in western Iraq indicated that the troops were not encountering much resistance, but they knew that the guerrillas would come to dominate the areas as soon as they left.
There has been no lack of guerrilla actions since the elections. Dozens of people are being killed almost every day, mostly Iraqis. But there are no reports of the large number of small assaults on the U.S. forces that have been the most effective resistance to the occupiers. It is possible that this phenomenon continues. The imperialist press, of course, prefers to focus on the spectacular strikes out of sensationalism but also because they are associated with Islamists, who represent an unattractive face of the resistance.
Overall, it is clear that the resistance has been caught in a trap. If it is isolated to the Sunni minority, it can eventually be ground down and demoralized. In order to escape from this dilemma it needs to develop a political leadership that can appeal to all Iraqis to resist the occupiers and their allies and stooges.
The elections, in fact, seem to have consolidated a situation of latent civil war, which is the most favorable circumstance for the U.S. imperialists. The attacks of the Islamists on Shiites and Kurdish nationalists play right into their hands.
However, if the resistance is in a difficult situation, the U.S. position is not without its
pitfalls either. The U.S. rulers are able to exploit the sectarian and national divisions in Iraq to manipulate the newly elected Interim National Assembly. The interim constitution adopted under the aegis of the U.S. occupiers requires a two-thirds majority to elect the premier, and so none of the parties can do it on their own.
The majority party, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which got about half the votes, and has 140 seats out of the total of 275 in the Assembly, needs the support of the Kurds, who got about 25 percent of the vote and 75 seats. The “secular Shiite” party of the outgoing premier, Iyad Allawi, a long time protégé of the U.S., has 40 seats and remains an important player, even though it represents a small minority.
Clearly, the U.S. would prefer a government under Allawi, but it is extremely unlikely that it expected him to win. It can and obviously does take comfort from the fact that he won sufficient support to remain in the game.
It was obvious that the Shiite alliance backed by Ayatollah Sistani would win the predominant share of the vote. In fact, it seems that the U.S. agreed to elections before the Sunni areas could be subdued specifically to satisfy Sistani, who is impatient to see a Shiite-dominated government and who is the decisive if ambiguous ally of the United States.
It is also clear, of course, that the U.S. has good reason to be wary of the Shiite clergy and does not want to see them establish a strong government. In fact, Scott Ritter, a former U.S. military officer and arms inspector in prewar Iraq, has declared that he has information that the U.S. rigged the vote to reduce the Iraqi Alliance total from a substantial majority of 56 percent to a relative majority of 48 percent.
The Shiite clergy is not any more pro-Western than the Sunni clergy, and what is more, it has historic links with the Islamist regime of Iran. Many of the parties in the Iraqi Alliance were linked to the Iranian regime at the time of the Iran-Iraq war and many of their leaders fled to Iran and lived there for long periods.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the premier designate of the Alliance, for example, lived in Iran for 10 years, from 1980, the year following the Iranian Islamic Revolution, to 1990, when he moved to London.
On the Feb. 23 “Democracy Now” radio program, Amy Goodman interviewed Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history, about Jaafari. He said, among other things:
“On a whole range of issues, there's likely to be some friction between Jaafari and the U.S. government. Jaafari was opposed to the Falluja campaign. He felt that peaceful means could have been used to resolve those issues. He was opposed to the Najaf campaigns of the U.S. military. He has good relations with Iran, and I think would not react well to a U.S. attack on Iran. And so, on a whole range of issues from Islamic law to domestic security policy to foreign policy, he is not on the same page with the U.S. Embassy.”
The question of relations between an Iraqi government dominated by the Shiite clergy and Iran is inevitably going to become a very tricky one for the U.S. The Iranian regime, in fact, appealed to Iraqi Shiites to vote, in the face of calls for a boycott from the Sunni clergy and the resistance. It did not do this obviously for the sake of supporting U.S. dominance of Iraq.
This question now threatens to become very acute, as the U.S. rulers have stepped up their threats against Iran. Scott Ritter claims that Bush has already approved a plan for bombing Iran in June.
On the other hand, the U.S. rulers have already been discountenanced by some startling changes in color by chameleon Iraqi politicians, such as the long-time protégé of the CIA and the Pentagon, Ahmed Chalabi.
The occupation authorities even accused Chalabi of being a spy for Iran and cast him aside. He has reemerged as an important player in the Iraqi Alliance.
In order to keep the situation in Iraq from getting out of control, the U.S. has to play a very complicated juggling game, and it has not historically shown a great deal of agility. Once it starts dropping pins, it can lose the game. And the big danger is that once it starts losing, it will be tempted to step up the ante by widening its military intervention and threatening a regional war.