Former exile: Iraqi resistance includes popular support across country

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Mon Sep 29 20:03:06 MDT 2003,3858,4762454-103677,00.html

The Guardian	   September 27, 2003

Patriots and invaders

Iraqi resistance to foreign occupation enjoys great popular support

Sami Ramadani

It was my first and brutally abrupt realisation that Baghdad, the city
of my childhood, is now occupied territory. It was also my first
encounter with a potent symbol of Iraqi hostility to the occupation
forces. Sitting in the front seat of the taxi that brought us from
Amman, I suddenly realised that a heavy machine gun was pointing at us
from only a few metres away. It was an American soldier aboard an
armoured vehicle in front of us, stuck in a traffic jam on the
outskirts of Baghdad. He gestured disapprovingly towards our driver
for approaching with some speed, then looked to his left and angrily
stuck out a middle finger. I followed his gaze and there was a child
of no more than eight or nine sitting in a chair in front of the open
gates leading to the garden of his house. He was shouting angrily,
with a clenched fist of defiance, cutting the air with swift and
furious right hooks.

Two weeks later, and after talking to scores of people and touring
much of Baghdad, it dawned on me that that child's rebellious, free
spirit was a moving and powerful symbol of how most people in Baghdad
felt towards the occupation forces. It is precisely this indomitable
spirit which survived the decades of Saddam's brutal regime, the
numerous wars and the murderous
13 years of sanctions. And it is precisely this spirit that Bush and
Blair did not take on board when they decided to invade and occupy
Iraq. They chose instead to listen to the echo of their own voices
bouncing back at them from some of the Iraqi opposition groups,
nurtured, financed and trained by the Pentagon and the CIA. Some of
these Iraqi voices are now members of the US-appointed Iraqi governing

A recent report in the Washington Post backs up the rumours I heard in
Baghdad that the Iraqi resistance to occupation is so strong that the
authorities are now actively recruiting some of the brutal officers of
the security and armed forces that Saddam himself used to suppress the
people. If true, the US administration, in the name of fighting the
so-called remnants of Saddam's regime, is now busy trying to rebuild
the shattered edifice of Saddam's tyrannical state - a tyranny which
they had backed and armed with WMD for many years. One of the popular
sayings I repeatedly heard in Baghdad, describing the relations
between the US and Saddam's regime, is "Rah el sani', ija el ussta" -
"gone is the apprentice, in comes the master."

The governing council is not so much hated as ridiculed, and attacked
for having its members chosen along sectarian lines. Most of the
people I talked to think that it is a powerless body: it has no army,
no police, and no national budget, but boasts nine rotating
presidents. One of the jokes circulating in Baghdad was that no sooner
had you brought down Saddam's picture than you were being asked to pin
up nine new ones.

Support for the council is largely confined to some activists of the
organisations that belong to it. Indeed, it could be argued that most
supporters of the more credible organisations belonging to the council
are opposed to membership of the US-appointed body. The leaders of the
Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), for
example, are finding it increasingly hard to convince these supporters
that cooperation with the invaders is still a possible route to
independence and democracy. The same goes for another smaller but
equally credible party, the Islamic Da'wa, which experienced a split
and serious haemorrhaging of membership following its decision to join
the council.

The now small organisation that enjoyed majority support in Iraq in
the late
50s, the Iraqi Communist party (ICP), was opposed to the invasion and
the council, but decided to join it at the eleventh hour. Most of its
supporters opposed the move. One, a poor truck driver, described it as
being even worse than the 1972 ICP leadership decision to join
Saddam's government. That policy collapsed in a pool of blood when
Saddam turned on the party's members, killing, jailing and forcing
into exile thousands of them. The truck driver described the council
as "the devil's lump of iron": a saying which refers to the
superstitious practice of keeping a small piece of metal in the house
to ward off the devil.

The gulf between popular sentiment and membership of the council was
clear after the murder of the leader of Sciri, Ayatolla Mohammed Baqir
Al Hakim. The slogans chanted by the hundreds of thousands who marched
in the three-day funeral processions in Baghdad and Najaf - "Death to
America, Death to Saddam" and "There is no god but Allah; America is
the enemy of Allah; Saddam is the enemy of Allah" - were very much in
tune with what I witnessed in Baghdad. They revealed the strength of
anti-US feeling in Baghdad and the south.

The one area where America has had relative success is Iraqi
Kurdistan. The political situation in this region is complex. Most
Kurds believed that the no-fly zone during Saddam's reign protected
them from his chemical weapons, and it is evident that the sanctions
did not hurt Kurdistan as much as it did the rest of Iraq. In the
lead-up to the war, most Kurds accepted the tactical notion of being
protected against Saddam and the hated Turkish forces. But despite
this, it is likely that American plans in Kurdistan will face popular
opposition once the realities of US interests and the regional
contradictions reassert themselves. Meanwhile, the historic political
unity between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq is unlikely to be broken.

What of the armed resistance? And why is it much more evident in some
parts of Iraq than others? There is no doubt that armed resistance
directed against the US forces enjoys wide popular support and is
mostly carried out by politically diverse, locally based
organisations. However, I also met many in Baghdad who, though
supportive of the "patriots" who resist the "invaders", believe that
such actions are "premature". One should, they argue, first exhaust
all peaceful means, mobilising the people in mass organisations before
confronting the occupation forces in armed struggle. Popular sentiment
can be gleaned from the conspiracy theories circulating in Baghdad.
People routinely blame the US or Israel or Kuwait for attacks on
civilian rather than military targets.

But you do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect that the
main reason for the high intensity of armed conflict in areas of
central Iraq and Mosul is that the US itself decided to make these
areas the arena for a showdown that they thought they could win more
easily, thereby establishing a bridgehead from which they could subdue
Baghdad and the south. They provoked conflict by killing civilians in
cold blood in Falluja, Mosul, Ramadi and elsewhere long before any
armed resistance in those areas.

The occupying forces quickly discovered that the slightest provocation
in the labyrinthine working-class districts of Baghdad, and most
cities of the south, was being met by massive shows of popular
strength on the streets. The US military command are surely aware that
Iraqis in these areas are heavily armed, well-trained and better

The US authority's nonsense about a "Sunni triangle" and "Shi'ite
Baghdad and south" is a smokescreen which has so far failed to divide
the Iraqi people or drive them into internecine conflict. The only
people who now believe that the US will back a democratic path in Iraq
are the few who have still not fully grasped America's role in Iraq's
modern history, the strategic significance of Iraq, or the nature of
US foreign policy today.

Leaving the city on the road back to Amman, when our car passed by the
house of that precocious child, I realised why my love for Baghdad
remained undiminished despite 34 years in exile.

• Sami Ramadani was a political refugee from Saddam's regime and is a
senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University

sami.ramadani at

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