Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
“They get their dead in neat, tidy caskets draped with a flag. We have to gather and scrape our dead off of the floors, and hope the US shrapnel and bullets left enough to make a definite identification.” So wrote the anonymous author of the internet diary Baghdad Burning, as she struggled to convey the tragedy of daily life in occupied Iraq.
The installation of a US protégé Iraqi Transitional Government is an alarming reminder of the tactics that led to the loss of millions of lives in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. For it is often forgotten that the seeds of the Vietnam war were sown by the US installing a client regime in Saigon. If Bush and Blair are not stopped, a similar catastrophe is in the making in Iraq.
Like Iraq today, South Vietnam was seen by Washington as the line that must be held at all costs. As the Vietnamese people’s rejection of the client regime grew stronger, the US bunkered behind its creation in Saigon to fight “communist infiltrators and insurgents”. The US-trained South Vietnamese forces grew to over a million, backed up by half a million US soldiers, “carpet” bombing and chemical weapons. Tens of thousands of people were arrested and tortured; secret US assassination squads targeted and killed about 41,000 people – victims of “Operation Phoenix”, which lasted from 1967 to 1971. By former US defence secretary Robert MacNamara’s reckoning, the Vietnamese death toll topped 3 million.
The US tactics in Vietnam (and more recently in Nicaragua and Honduras) are being gradually introduced into Iraq. US assassination squads, for example, are probably already active in Iraq. They were set up, with the help of Israeli experts, at Fort Bragg in North Carolina several months ago.
Thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the “end” of the war, adding to the uncounted thousands killed as “collateral damage” during it. The occupation has blocked any democratic gains that the Iraqis might have enjoyed as a result of the collapse of Saddam’s regime. For the US realised that the Iraqi people, if given the choice, would elect forces hostile to US policies. Elections for deans in Iraq’s universities, for example, were won by anti-occupation candidates, prompting the US to scrap elections for city mayors, and oppose calls for early national elections.
Mass democratic activity rapidly clashed with the occupation authority. The Union of the Unemployed quickly emerged as an effective mass campaigning force, and the Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions resurfaced. Students became similarly active. In response, the US proconsul, Paul Bremer, swiftly resurrected the 1984 Saddam law banning all strikes in the public sector and ordered the arrest of the unions” leaders. Meanwhile, the institutions that Bremer tried to establish have all failed to strike a chord with the people.
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 for months before the invasion. All these plans were jettisoned after colliding with the rock of the Iraqi people’s opposition. Had most of the people’s reaction 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 resistance also forced the US to abandon its plans to rule Iraq directly for at least two years and to “remould” the country, including privatising Iraq’s massive natural and human resources. The main purpose of the hastily arranged substitute plans was to empower pro-US Iraqis. The discredited Iraqi Governing Council, controlled by Bremer, has now given way to the transitional government, to be the custodian of “full Iraqi sovereignty” until elections scheduled for January 2005. Ambassador John Negroponte, infamous for his activities in Honduras, replaces Bremer to control the “sovereign” government from the biggest US embassy in the world, based at Saddam’s republican palace.
Though varied in political and social outlook, the opposition to the US-led presence and the armed resistance (as distinct from the terrorist atrocities that have targeted civilians) have been supported by Iraq’s mosques – the best organised social institution in the country. Saddam’s regime took great care to eliminate secular political organisations. Short of banning prayer itself, however, the mosque was the one institution that Saddam couldn’t fully control. Hence its central role in opposing both Saddam’s tyranny and the US-led occupation.
But the role of religion in Iraq is politically and socially contradictory. While the secular anti-occupation forces are concerned about the disproportionate influence of Iraq’s religious leaders, the latter are not all cut from the same cloth: for example, many support working with secular forces, holding democratic elections and upholding the rights of the Kurdish people. Some are also more enlightened on the rights of women, who have been the hardest hit by the sanctions and the occupation. There are others, however, eager to suppress women’s rights, in a society where women have been very active in most areas of the public domain since the 1950s.
Islamist leaders have organised people who rejected the strategy, advocated by other religious leaders, of ending the occupation by cooperating with the occupier. Shiah and Sunni religious leaders formed an anti-sectarian front, the Muslim Scholars Committee (MSC). The MSC has organised massive demonstrations in Baghdad, encouraging Muslims to unite and pray at each other’s mosques, where secular people are also welcome. The committee recently invited over 30 secular and Christian organisations and academics to attend the First Founding Iraqi Conference Against the US Occupation. This significant development attracted very little media coverage, as it contradicts the Western media’s line that Iraqis are incapable of working collectively.
This myth of implacable Iraqi sectarianism has been exploited by Bush and Blair in their latest package of pretexts to prolong the occupation. They say: “We will leave Iraq when the Iraqis ask us to& But the Iraqis want us to stay to prevent a civil war.” Which Iraqis? Bush named and thanked the new prime minister Ayad Allawi. A former Ba”athist intelligence officer and CIA “asset”, Allawi is leader of the Iraqi National Accord, composed of former Saddamist intelligence and military officers. This, and the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and other prisons, is part of a systematic US policy of building new Saddamist state structures.
The media in Britain predicted that civil war was imminent after explosions at Shiah holy sites killed at least 270 people in March. But these explosions, instead of provoking civil war, generated massive unity across Iraq. People blamed the US (and Israel) for planning the atrocities or turning a blind eye to the perpetrators. Similarly, I saw personally how the Iraqi people helped each other in difficult circumstances when I visited in July 2003. People used street-based generators to supply electricity to homes during the daily power cuts, and cooperated to collect rubbish, guard neighbourhoods and tend the injured. Iraqis learnt self-reliance during the 13 years of sanctions (which did not affect Iraqi Kurdistan), when they managed, in spite of Saddam’s tyranny, to maintain agriculture, health and education services and a semblance of normal life. During the war, employees of many institutions, including universities, turned up to guard them against looting, only to be ordered away by the occupation forces, which carefully guarded the oil ministry and Saddam’s intelligence files. But in the teeth of the evidence, Bush and Blair continue to peddle the myth, beloved of colonialists, that Iraqis will instantly start a civil war if the “calming” presence of the occupation forces is removed.
But the US-led presence is dangerously dividing Iraqis now. The US is deepening a split between a minority for and an overwhelming majority against the US-led forces. It is here that the seeds of the “civil” war lie, threatening to engulf Iraq and the Middle East.
The immediate withdrawal of the US-led forces from Iraq is the only way to stop the impending “civil” war, in which these forces 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 the London Metropolitan University and a writer on Iraq. He was a political exile from Saddam’s regime for many years
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun