Iraqi Opposition Groups Strive for Broader Unity

by Gerry Foley/ May 2005 issue of Socialist Action

Although ruthless slaughters of Iraqi civilians by a relatively small number of al Qaida guerrillas and similar groups continue to be featured in the major

press reports, there are indications that the mass resistance to the U.S. occupation is developing stronger organizational and political appeal.


In this respect, the major event in April was the huge demonstration in Baghdad on April 9 called by the Association of Muslim Scholars, the legal

representative of the Sunni resistance, and by the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. It got notably little coverage in the U.S. and British press.


The sparse accounts given of the demonstration mentioned "thousands" or "tens of thousands" of participants, or stressed that they were far less than

the million that the organizers allegedly expected.  Actually, one report (in the British Independent of April 11) did estimate it at 300,000.


The demonstration was certainly massive. Moreover, it was the first major joint action of the Sunni and Shiite resistance and therefore portentous.


There was even an indication that the al Qaida leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was beginning to get an inkling of the fact that attacks on Shiite civilians play into the hands of the occupiers. He declared that the Iraqi-government reports of a slaughter of Shiite civilians in mid-April in the town of al Madain and an

alleged attempt by Sunni insurgents to drive the Shiites from the town were an invention of  "the infidel."


In fact, Muqtada al Sadr, who has been providing defense for Shiite gatherings, declared that the government’s claims about al Madain were false, and that his followers in the town had told him that nothing of the kind occurred.


Subsequently, dozens of bodies were recovered from the Tigris river, and the government claimed that these were the remains of the Shiite victims. But various reports in the international press indicate that the time and motivations of these killings remain quite obscure.


There are also indications that the groups that express the mass opposition to the U.S.-led occupation are more and more taking their distance from al Qaida

and similar forces. In the April 11 issue of the British Independent, Patrick Cockburn wrote: "Posters threatening extreme resistance fighters have appeared on walls in Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim city on the Euphrates river west of Baghdad. Insurgents in the city say that resistance to the Americans is being discredited by the kidnapping and killing of civilians."


Cockburn recognized that despite its weaknesses, the resistance had been very effective: "The resistance in Iraq has always been fragmented and, unlike many traditional liberation movements, it has never had a political wing. Some 38 different groups have claimed attacks on the U.S troops. The insurgents have also proved extraordinarily effective—far more so than the regular Iraqi army during the war in 2003—killing 1,089 US soldiers and wounding some 10,000."


The British journalist pointed out: "The key to the effectiveness of the resistance is that it has swum in a sea of popular support or acquiescence. However, often after an attack on Iraqi police or army recruits, furious by-standers have said to me: ‘Why are they attacking our own people and not killing Americans?’"


Despite the provocative Sunni sectarianism of al Qaida, Cockburn noted, two-thirds of the Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the Iraqi population, want U.S.

withdrawal immediately or in the near future. Among the Sunnis, about 20 percent of the Iraqi population, opposition to the occupation is nearly universal.


Cockburn noted: "The Sunni leaders know that, in many ways, the resistance has been very successful. Two years ago, U.S. officials were airily speaking of a prolonged occupation of Iraq. It was only as guerrilla attacks intensified that they agreed to the elections in January."


Overcoming the Shiite-Sunni division would create the basis for the support of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis for the resistance. It would not in itself end

the problem of the religious intolerance of clerics of both sects, which repels many young people, but it would be a major step toward taking a political

approach to achieving unity against the occupiers and could prepare the way for further advances.


For example, the Islamists of all stripes would have to moderate or abandon their theocratic pretensions in order to attract support from the Kurds, who are the only community that still supports the U.S. occupation, out of a mistaken belief that the U.S. will support their national aspirations.


Given the massive and probably still growing antagonism to the U.S-led occupation, the American authorities are increasingly in a dilemma in Iraq.

They need to create the impression that Iraqis are progressively taking charge of their country. But as local government develops, the more it is going to come under pressure from the masses and the more likely it is to obstruct the maneuvers of the occupying forces.


Moreover, given the impoverishment of the masses fostered by the U.S. occupiers’ determination to impose neoliberal economic policies, and the effects of the war and misadministration created by the U.S. rulers, it seems certain that Iraq will remain a seething cauldron and will continue to wear out the forces and resources of American imperialism. 

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