by Gerry Foley / April 2005 issue of Socialist Action
Spectacular reports of suicide bombings by relatively small Islamist groups in Iraq have overshadowed revelations about U.S. atrocities during the November 2004 siege of Falluja—which, however, will have a much
wider and longer-lasting impact on public opinion in Iraq and the Arab East.
Thus, the Al Jazeera website reported March 17: "All is quiet in Falluja, or at least that is how it seems, given that the mainstream media has largely forgotten about the Iraqi city. But independent journalists are risking life and limb to bring out a very different story.
"The picture they are painting is of U.S. soldiers killing whole families, including children, attacks on hospitals and doctors, the use of napalm-like weapons, and sections of the city destroyed."
Among other examples, it cited an interview done by an Inter-Press Service reporter with a doctor who had filmed the testimony of a 16-year-old girl: "She
stayed for three days with the bodies of her family who were killed in their home. When the soldiers entered she was in her home with her father, mother,
12-year-old brother, and two sisters.
"She watched the soldiers enter and shoot her mother and father directly, without saying anything. They beat her two sisters, then shot them in the head.
After this her brother was enraged and ran at the soldiers while shouting at them, so they shot him dead."
The account also documented reports that the U.S. forces had used napalm and phosphorous bombs against civilians and shut down the local medical facilities to prevent the doctors from reporting the civilian casualties.
In the meantime, the political isolation of the Iraqi armed resistance has continued to deepen since the elections at the end of January. However, there are indications that forces in the resistance are coming to grips with the problem.
The most damage has been done by the Sunni Islamist suicide bombings aimed at crowds of Shiites. Thus, in Mosul on March 10, a suicide bomber ignited an explosion near a throng of mourners at a Shiite mosque, killing scores of people. Shiite funeral processions were called off to avoid providing targets for the Islamist bombers.
The armed organization of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr offered guards for private Shiite funeral ceremonies. This is a dramatic turnaround from the situation in April when al Sadr’s movement and the Sunni resisters in Falluja fought a parallel struggle against the U.S. occupiers.
A suicide bombing on Feb. 28 in the majority Shiite town of Hillah, south of Baghdad, aimed at applicants for government jobs, killed 125 people. In that case, the rage of the community turned against the U.S. and Iraqi government forces that had failed to prevent the attack.
AP reported the shock to the Shiite community caused by the bombing in Mosul: “Hundreds of men, women, and children crowded the main hospital in Mosul, trying to find and identify the 50 dead and more than 100 wounded in Thursday’s blast at a funeral tent jammed with Shiite mourners. … ‘I cannot describe the amount of despair I feel,’’ said Sher Qassim Mohammed Ali. ‘I
lost seven of my sons, brothers and cousins. I want to know who carried out this attack ... we will avenge those who did it.’
“With a dozen bodies covered in blankets laying in the cold outside a morgue that had no space to put them, others screamed: `This is a crime! This is a crime!’ One man said: ‘May God avenge them.’”
In Hillah, a reported 2000 people demonstrated against the slaughter of Iraqis carried out in the name of the resistance to U.S. occupation. The March bombings of Shiite crowds were preceded by multiple bomb attacks on Shiite processions during the sect’s holy days of Ashura. Al Jazeera’s web site reported Feb. 20 that scores had been killed.
However, an Associated Press commentary of March 4 noted: “The anger over deaths caused by insurgents does not always translate into acceptance of U.S. troops, who are still widely blamed for the chaos in Iraq. And many people support the insurgents, arguing they are fighting a just war to rid the country of U.S.-led troops who invaded in 2003.”
The ruthless killing of Iraqi civilians, especially Shiites, seems to be essentially the work of the Islamists identified with al Qaeda and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian. This grouping includes foreign volunteers from other Arab countries and from Islamic communities in the West. It undoubtedly represents only a small part of the resistance fighters but clearly has financial resources, training, and self-sacrificing operatives. They seem to be basically the ones who carry out the suicide operations, which have multiplied since the elections in January.
Within the resistance itself, it seems that attempts are underway to try to stop the damage being inflicted on the movement by the al Qaeda group. The March 4 AP commentary noted that Sunni supporters of the resistance are beginning to speak out against attacks on Iraqi civilians: ”’The real resistance should only target the occupiers, and no normal person should consider dozens of dead people to be some kind of collateral damage while you are trying to kill somebody else,’ cleric Ahmed Abdul-Ghafur told worshippers Friday at Um al-Qura, the main Sunni mosque in Baghdad. ‘Everybody should speak out against such inhumane acts.’”
A webzine called the Post-Colonial Iraq Newsletter (http://jelloul.blogspot.com) reported the formation in late February of a an anti-occupation front centered around the Association of Muslim Scholars, a broad Sunni organization that has functioned as sort of legal arm of the resistance. According to it, the front includes al Sadr’s Shiite opposition movement. If this account proves to be accurate, this would represent an important step to unifying Shia and Sunni resisters against the occupation.
The website notes the following point in the founding statement of the front: “Paragraph 3 calls for a clear distinction to be drawn between the legitimate
resistance against occupation forces and terrorism, meaning the resort to violence against innocent civilians, whether Iraqis or foreigners, and to sectarian attacks.”
It certainly seems reasonable to think that the more politically conscious forces in the resistance are thinking about ways to unify the opposition to the U.S. occupation and to counter the division being caused by the al Qaeda sectarian bombings. These attacks play so obviously into the hands of the U.S. rulers that a lot of Iraqis reportedly think that they are provocations staged by the CIA.
It would be disastrous for the resistance to get into a position of appearing to wage war against a Shiite-Kurd government that could claim to represent
the majority of the Iraqi population. That would create a de facto civil war that a resistance movement based primarily on the Sunni minority could not win.
Already, the outrages by the Islamists are distracting attention from the project of the U.S. and its client government to build a massive repressive apparatus. In the typical neocolonial pattern, the Iraqi government is likely to prove more ruthless than the occupiers because it can hide behind a semblance of national independence.
The U.S. government has already been obliged to try to dissociate itself from the human rights abuses of its Iraqi clients. Thus, The New York Times reported March 1: “The State Department on Monday detailed an array
of human rights abuses last year by the Iraqi government, including torture, rape and illegal detentions by police officers and functionaries of the
interim administration that took power in June.” Three days later, a New York Times headline proclaimed: “American Jails in Iraq Are Bursting With
Detainees.” The article reported that the U.S. occupiers were now holding about 9000 prisoners. It gave a depressing picture of the results of the
seizure and imprisonment of large numbers of Iraqis: “On a recent morning here, military policemen marched 50 handcuffed men off a convoy that had just arrived from Tikrit, Mr. Hussein’s hometown. Old and young, the detainees wore thin shirts or robes. Some were barefoot.”
Overall, Iraq remains a powder keg and a human disaster area created by the U.S. invasion and occupation. It is clear that nothing good for the Iraqi people can come out of the U.S. operations there. But at this point the political situation is very fluid and it is difficult to predict when and how a unifying alternative to the U.S. client government can emerge.