Fisk: more US troops needed after bombers murder Shiites in Najaf (and comments on the discussion)

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sun Aug 31 22:41:37 MDT 2003

Subject: Fisk: more US troops needed, and comments on the discussion
of the UN-Najaf bombings.

The following article highlights the fact that the U.S. war in Iraq is
far from being either over or defeated yet by the unexpected (to the
US rulers, but not to me and many others) upsurge of opposition to the
occupation across Iraqi society. The occupation is facing big
challenges, but it is not yet collapsing.  The third Iraq war promises
to be much longer than its predecessors and increasingly bloody for
all sides.

The comments that follow were written before occupation authorities
arrested 19 people in connection with the bombing.  Many of them are
said by their captors to have rapidly confessed to ties to Al Qaeda.
One of two possibilities comes to mind. The first, and most likely
from my experience of police and prosecutorial practice in the United
States, is that people who may have oppositional ties of some sort
have been rounded up at random and are now being transformed by police
interrogators into an Al Qaeda unit that carried out the murders. The
second, and much less likely I think, is that the authorities have
been tracking the unit that prepared this crime for some time, which
would pose the question of why they were able to carry out their plan.

The comments that follow were written before the arrests.

Horrified by the murder of 95 Shiite worshippers including a central
leader of the longstanding
Shiite opposition to Saddam Hussein, Fisk excoriates the Bush
administration for not sending more troops.

Regardless of debates  and rumors about the Shiite leader's
"collaboration" with the occupation, nothing justifies this crime
against the Shiite population of Iraq and the leadership many of them
support. It is way too early in the rise of a national liberation
movement in Iraq for the assassination of alleged "collaborators" to
be anything but a pretext for political repression, murderous
political and religious sectarian warfare, and revenge operations that
can only tend to  terrorize the working people and the nation and push
them away from active struggle against the occupation. Who defines
collaboration and what definition is applied? Are oil workers who try
to get the industry going again or villagers who support efforts to
re-establish a healthy water supply "collaborators"?  Are we at the
point where such a definition would be anything but a tyrannical
imposition on the common people?

The Najaf bombing had the earmarks of an Al Qaeda type action, as did
the bombing of the UN center (although this one has much more sharply
the characteristic Al Qaeda trademark of directly targeting the masses
as the enemy).  That does not mean Al Qaeda is responsible.  We have
no way of knowing and the politics that Al Qaeda represents -- genuine
hatred, contempt and underlying fear of the masses, violence
deliberately calculated to cause heavy casualties among them,
religious and political ultrasectarianism, and a preference for
actions which tend to divide the oppressed and exploited while uniting
their enemies rather than the other way around, all in the name of
allegedly  "destroying America" -- are not limited to the circle
around Osama Bin Laden.

Fisk calls on Washington to "implore the world to share the future of
the country with them."  This is a direct repudiation of the Iraqi
people's right to self determination, and a call for a continuation of
a broader imperialist "war against terrorism," from an outstanding
antiwar reporter who told the truth throughout the conflict. He not
only calls on Bush to "implore" but implicitly on others to answer the
call and send forces to police and control the formerly sovereign
nation of Iraq.

Hopefully, his cave-in will prove temporary. But this highlights the
tendency of the current wave of bombings to divide the fighting people
of Iraq and their allies and potential allies in the world, while
creating a basis for uniting their enemies.

Regardless of what other countries make contributions to the
occupation, the war will remain a U.S. war just as the wars in Korea,
Vietnam, and the first Iraq war were basically US wars despite the fig
leaf provided by other countries.

I am opposed to regarding this war as a "US-UN war," a slogan put
forward by some very good and militant antiwar fighters.  The UN is
not at war yet against the Iraqi people, and there is no justification
for giving excuses to those who favor this course. Of course, the UN
Security Council and the UN Secretariat have been complicit in a
SUBORDINATE way in the US war in many criminal actions, which should
be denounced without any polite deference to the myth that the UN
represents the world. But even these bodies have been divided. not
united, in their approach to the US WAR.

But the UN also occurs the General Assembly, where each nation has one
vote. The United States has successfully resisted proposals from many
nations for a General Assembly discussion of  the US actions in Iraq,
a discussion that would not go well for the war regardless of the
weakness in the positions that would be taken by various capitalist

I think the Cuban press was right to treat the UN bombing as an
example of reactionary, antipopular terrorism rather than a blow
against the "ministry of colonies." (Can Jose explain why the Cubans
have understood the OAS as the US ministry of colonies, but failed to
notice that the UN was exactly the same.)

The current rise of anti-occupation activity in Iraq along with other
problems has largely discredited the Bush administration's arguments
for launching the war, and has broken the momentum of its attempt to
pursue an aggressive, militantly militarist, and unilateralist foreign
policy for he time being.  (Perhaps Bush's Democratic successor, if he
doesn't get another term, will decide when the time for US open
unilateralism and publicly militant militarism has REALLY, FINALLY

But, with the administration's argumentation in tatters, other
arguments are being found and finding considerable acceptance in
bourgeois circles and beyond.  In Friday's New York Times, Paul
Krugman notes that Iraq was not a hotbed of "terrorism" under Saddam
Hussein's repressive rule BUT IT IS NOW.  In other words, the war to
occupy Iraq was not necessary then -- what's done is done -- BUT IT IS
NECESSARY NOW. This is the clear drift of the criticism of the
so-called antiwar Democrats. The exposure of the Bush-Blair lies has
been a very progressive development but it does not end the war or
defeat the occupation, although it is contributing to a real
leadership crisis for the U.S. imperialists.

The imperialists -- with the liberals, not the Bush administration, in
the lead this time -- are now attempting to construct a new and more
credible set of lies to justify what for them is the NECESSARY
continuation and escalation of the war.  The UN bombing and the Najaf
slaughter are at the heart of this campaign today.  That the arguments
are effective is shown by Fisk's response -- the response of an honest
observer who sees no other force but US imperialism (with the "right"
policy) to bring "peace" to Iraq today. It is reflected in the
"dovish" critics who call for firing Rumsfeld, in part because he
fears to openly send more troops to Iraq. And Fisk is not alone -- not
by a long shot and including among the forces who have made up the
antiwar movement.

This discussion was initiated in part by Robin Maisel, and he deserves
credit for this. Robin said many things I disagree with.  I believe he
misrepresented the discussion of the inspections in Iraq by claiming
that many on the list advocated the position of "let the inspectors do
their work" of disarming Iraq in the face of the US war drive. To my
recollection, noone on the list held this position.  And he makes no
mention of the fact that most of the debate on the list about the
inspectors took place not over the need to get rid of Saddam's
"weapons of mass destruction" but over the Cuban government's stand
that Iraq  must aggressively, openly, and LOUDLY cooperate with the
inspectors in order to demonstrate the FACT that IRAQ HAD ALREADY BEEN

Would this have prevented the invasion? Probably not.  But does that
fact mean that anyone who tried to prevent the inevitable, by
diplomacy or protest, was guily of "illusions"? Inevitability is not a
thing, but a relation between people and it is established in  the
class struggle -- and subject to change without notice.  Those who
predicted that the war was overwhelmingly inevitable, as I and many
others on the list did, are justified not by the accuracy of this
prediction -- as a gambler I'm probably no better than Pete Rose or
William Bennett -- but by what we did to prevent it and to make the
cost of the crime higher to the imperialists.

In The Revolution Betrayed, Leon Trotsky argued that in retrospect, it
was hard to argue that the bureaucratic counter-revolution (beginning
within the workers state) was not inevitable.  It certainly tended to
become so. But, he pointed out, the struggle against the political
phase of the counterrevolution was also inevitable.  Those who pull on
opposite sides of an inevitability, he pointed out, can end up on
opposite sides of the barricades.

But one point that Robin made struck me in a different way. He
asked -- this is a paraphrase, I  w not consulting the original --what
effect do we think the anonymous bombings will have on the masses on
Iraq?  I think it is clear that the effect is negative --
intimidating, terrorizing. This is a more important fact for me than
the problems that  these bombings cause for the US rulers -- chaos,
political unpreparedness to deal with serious attacks, etcetera. The
anonymity is itself a reactionary factor.

Jose Perez may think the attack on the UN was motivated by the
collaboration of UN institutions with the occupation -- which is real
enough -- but who the hell knows for sure.  Maybe somebody thinks the
UN is too friendly to the Kurds or the Shiites, or maybe somebody
thinks the UN is Jewish.  Who the hell knows for sure? I agree that
this is not cowardice, but it is not the bravery that aims to inspire
and give political leadership to the masses as in Moncada.

Frankly, I think Fisk -- an honest reporter, let us remember, despite
his negative political shift at this point -- has a point that Iraq
faces the possibility of civil war.  I believe that the current
military opposition is dominated (largely, not entirely) by forces
that are linked to the predominantly Sunni ruling class that has
dominated Iraq, even though they now face a majority of Iraqi Shiites
and a sizable minority of overwhelmingly Sunni Iraqi Kurds.  These
ruling class forces are not fighting for Saddam. There is not reason
to think that most Baathists or Sunni-identified forces long for his
return, despite his boastful (and hollow boastfulness is central to
his political personality) claims to lead and direct the resistance
from hiding.

The capitalist ruling class in Iraq, which is fundamentally Sunni and
was predominantly Sunni long before the 1958 revolution, now faces the
US occupation which has overthrown Saddam, who was one of them and
represented them,  but has not been able to slam down the tight lid
that Saddam had kept on all sections of the masses. This ruling class
now faces not only the prospect of expropriation by the Americans, who
slaver for their nationalized oil,  but  also by the Iraqi Shiite and
Kurdish masses who want their rights and whose bourgeois leaders are
tired of taking crumbs that fall from the capitalist Sunnis' tables.
These forces (who have important allies in Saudi Arabia, who have an
interest in preserving Sunni bourgeois forces and limiting the US
colonization particularly in the oil industry) have an interest in
both containing the scope of US domination and silencing the oppressed
and exploited to assure that they will be the beneficiaries of any
concessions the US is forced to make.

The bombings advance such a course, although I cannot prove and do not
assume that this is the intention.

No "bending to imperialism" is reflected in this view, in my opinion.
I slowly grew used to using my judgment without giving to much weight
to such claims.  (I am under pressure, of course, but so is everybody
else and screaming capitulation does not constitute proof.)

I do not support US imperialism against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the
Afghan "warlords'" or whoever bombed the UN and the bombing in Najaf.
I did not and do not support US imperialism against Saddam, the Baath
Party, or Saudi Arabian fundamentalists.  I do not support US
imperialism against the Saudi Arabian monarchy, to the extent that
they oppose it (watch that space for further developments). I oppose
US imperialism in every such conflict. But I do not pretend that such
forces are charting a course that leads out of imperialist domination.
Fred Feldman

This is the start of a civil war that will consume the entire nation
unless America acts

Robert Fisk

30 August 2003

In Iraq, they go for the jugular: two weeks ago, the UN's top man,
yesterday one of the most influential Shia Muslim clerics. As they
used to say in the Lebanese war, if enough people want you dead,
you'll die.

So who wanted Ayatollah Mohamed Bakr al-Hakim dead? Or, more to the
point, who would not care if he died? Well, yes, there's the famous
"Saddam remnants" which the al-Hakim family are already blaming for
the Najaf massacre. He was tortured by Saddam's men and, after
al-Hakim had gone into his Iranian exile, Saddam executed one of his
relatives each year in a vain attempt to get him to come back. Then
there's the Kuwaitis or the Saudis who certainly don't want his
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to achieve any kind
of "Islamic revolution" north of their border.

There are neo-conservatives aplenty in the United States who would
never have trusted al-Hakim, despite his connections to the Iraqi
Interim Council that the Americans run in Baghdad. Then there's the

Only a couple of months ago, I remember listening to al-Hakim
preaching at Friday prayers, demanding an end to the Anglo-American
occupation but speaking of peace and demanding even that women should
join the new Iraqi army. "Don't think we all support this man," a
worshipper said to me.

Al-Hakim also had a bad reputation for shopping his erstwhile Iraqi
colleagues to Iranian intelligence.

Then there's Muqtada Sadr, the young - and much less learned - cleric
whose martyred father has given him a cloak of heroism among younger
Shias and who has long condemned "collaboration" with the American
occupiers of Iraq; less well-known is his own organisation's quiet
collaboration with Saddam's regime before the Anglo-American invasion.

Deeper than this singular dispute run the angry rivers of theological
debate in the seminaries of Najaf, which never accepted the idea of
velayat faqi - theological rule - espoused by Ayatollah Khomeini of
Iran. Al-Hakim had called Khomeini, and his successor Ayatollah
Khamanei, the "living Imam". Al-Hakim also compared himself to the
martyred imams Ali and Hussein, whose family had also been killed
during the first years of Muslim history. This was a trite, even
faintly sacrilegious way of garnering support.

The people of Najaf, for the most part, don't believe in "living
Imams" of this kind. But in the end, the bloodbath at Najaf - and the
murder of Mohamed al-Hakim - will be seen for what it is: yet further
proof that the Americans cannot, or will not, control Iraq. General
Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq, said only 24 hours earlier
that he needed no more troops. Clearly, he does if he wishes to stop
the appalling violence. For what is happening, in the Sunni heartland
around Baghdad and now in the burgeoning Shia nation to the south, is
not just the back-draft of an invasion or even a growing guerrilla war
against occupation. It is the start of a civil war in Iraq that will
consume the entire nation if its new rulers do not abandon their
neo-conservative fantasies and implore the world to share the future
of the country with them.

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