Iraq : The rise of the resistance
Anne Alexander and Simon Assaf
In early November 2004 US troops destroyed the city of Fallujah. Countless civilians and an untold number of resistance fighters perished in the assault. The city of mosques lay in ruins, but the rubble also buried US and British plans for a stable occupation. On the eve of the attack on Fallujah the military told the soldiers that they were facing their biggest battle since the assault on the Vietnamese city of Hue in 1968. Iraq had become America’s new Vietnam.
In fact, even as Bush’s generals met in April 2003 to celebrate their victory, the opening shots were being fired in Iraq’s war of national libera-tion. On 18 April 2003 Iraqis filed out of the capital’s many impoverished neighbourhoods to join a popular demonstration. Over 10,000 celebrated the fall of Saddam Hussein. But unlike the crowd who two days earlier watched US tanks topple Saddam’s statue, the demonstrators raised a new demand : no to occupation.
Over the coming weeks thousands of Iraqis, from teachers to former soldiers, port workers and public servants, marched for jobs, the reopening of ministries and the payment of salaries. On 28 April a small crowd gath-ered near a school in Fallujah housing US troops. Fallujah did not witness the looting and chaos that gripped many parts of the country in the wake of the invasion. Tribal sheikhs and religious leaders ensured security in the city. The crowd insisted the US troops were not needed and demanded that sol-diers handed the school back to the city authorities and left town. The troops opened fire, killing 13. The killings in Fallujah would propel the Sunni city into the heart of a new national movement.
By October 2004 the early optimism of George Bush and Tony Blair had given way to desperation, and instead of a welcome they were met with anger and loathing. Most of Iraq’s towns and cities were under the control of a popular resistance, with US and British troops left ruling a string of iso-lated military bases across the country. American and British troops would struggle to rule an Iraq they thought they had conquered, while Iraq’s US-backed provisional government would struggle to patch together a security force and central authority.
In this article we examine the historical background to the post-war insurgency, including the failed promise of the 1958 revolution, which Iraqis hoped would bring both liberation from colonialism and social justice. We analyse the reasons why the US won the war, but lost the peace, leading to the development of a popular insurgency. We show how the debilitation of the Ba’athist regime under sanctions created the conditions for a rapid collapse of the state after the war, yet, with too few troops to enforce law and order, reconstruction ground to a halt. We show how the imposition of a govern-ment dominated by former exiles loyal to the US further soured Iraqis’ views of the occupation, and as the insurgents grew bolder, US troops swept through towns and cities seizing thousands of young men, fuelling resentment.
We then examine the nature of the insurgency, arguing that far from being a collection of diehard Ba’athist loyalists and foreign Jihadist fighters, the resistance has deep roots in many different sections of Iraqi society. We argue that the resistance is a genuine national liberation movement. We analyse the factors behind the rise of Iraqi Sunni and Shia Islamist groups, which have made the greatest political gains in the post-war period, and assess the consolidation of popular support for the insurgency since the war. Finally we turn to the limitations of the first phase of the resistance and the likely impact of changes in US counter-insurgency strategy as the occupying forces try to manage political and military failure. The elections scheduled for 2005 are one component of a US strategy aimed at under-cutting support for the resistance by drawing civilian opponents of the occupation into a political process largely outside their control, while crushing the armed resistance with overwhelming force.
A nation born in struggle
Iraq’s first struggle for national liberation took place in the aftermath of the First World War. Britain and France were determined to divide the defeated Ottoman Empire between them. Britain invited Amir Faisal, a leader of the Arab rebellion against the Ottomans, to become king of Iraq. However, Iraq exploded in rebellion in 1920, when the League of Nations awarded Britain a mandate over the country. The poet Muhammad al-Ubaydi captured the defiant mood of the times :
We are not slaves/to adorn necks with collars. We are not prisoners/to submit ourselves to be manacled... We are not orphans/that seek a Mandate for Iraq. And if we bow before oppression/we shall forfeit the pleasures of the Tigris.1
British control was swept away in large areas of central Iraq. Nationalist slogans united Sunnis and Shias in protests in Baghdad. Shia clerics issued fatwas, religious rulings, calling for a holy war against the occupation. Gertrude Bell, an adviser to the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, described how British officials struggled to impose the new king. ‘It’s not all smooth yet,’ she wrote in August 1920. ‘We get reports about the lower Euphrates tribes preparing monstrous petitions in favour of a republic... I don’t believe half of them are true but they keep one in anxiety’.2 A combination of bribery, threats and political manipulation even-tually ensured Faisal’s acceptance. In August 1921 he was crowned to the strains of ‘God Save the King’-no one had yet composed an Iraqi national anthem.
Meanwhile Iraqi society was changing rapidly. The rise of a class of landowners who dominated the economy and the political system for much of the first half of the 20th century drove small cultivators and sharecroppers into poverty. Changes in the law of landownership in 1932 dramatically increased the landlords’ power. In this way the sheikhs of nomadic tribes, who had previously lived by raiding and exacting tribute from the settled cul-tivators, were transformed into a class of landowners. Urban merchants also benefited from the change in the law as they were now able to invest in the land. Two of the greatest landowners by the time of the 1958 revolution were Ahmed Ajil al-Yawer, paramount chief of the Shammar tribes, with 160,000 acres, and Abdul-Hadi al-Chalabi, a rich Shia merchant from Baghdad whose 64,000 acres of rain-fed land were probably worth even more than Al-Yawer’s vast holdings. Al-Yawer was the grandfather of Ghazi Ajil al-Yawer, appointed president of Iraq in June 2004, while Abdul-Hadi al-Chalabi’s son, Ahmed al-Chalabi, was a member of the Governing Council appointed by US forces to rule Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s old ruling class had come home in the back of an American tank.
Between 1945 and 1958 hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were drawn into a movement for national liberation-a rebellion not just against British occupation, but also against the landowners and merchants who propped up the hated monarchy.3 The urban masses were at the core of the great waves of protest : organised workers were a minority, but some, particularly the railway workers, port workers and oil workers, made powerful use of their industrial strength. Meanwhile, the swelling shantytowns around Baghdad provided the foot-soldiers for the urban insurrections of 1948 and 1952- poor peasants from the eastern provinces who eked out a living in informal employment. A thin but important layer of the middle class also provided many of the activists for growing nationalist and left wing movements.
Thousands looked to the Iraqi Communist Party for change. The party’s diverse membership is a testimony to the ability of the mass move-ment to cut across ethnic and religious divisions by uniting Iraqis along class lines. By 1955 Shias dominated the CP’s rank and file and made up the majority of the leadership, while the Kurds were attracted to the party because it organised Kurdish peasants against their Kurdish landlords, and supported Kurdish national rights.4
The failed promise of 1958
In 1958 a coup by army officers finished off the monarchy. The king and his pro-British prime minister were killed and the soldiers’ leader, Abdul Karim Qassim, declared a republic. At first it was the left which benefited. The Communist Party grew rapidly in the aftermath of the revolution. But in 1959 Qassim moved against the CP, removing its supporters from government and purging its activists from the army. The CP drew back from confrontation. After all, it had championed Qassim during the early days of the revolution, and the party received instructions from Moscow not to upset the fragile balance of power with the US in the Middle East by precipitating a struggle for power in Iraq.5 In the end Qassim’s victory over the CP proved to be his undoing as he was left with no means to mobilise ordinary people to defend his regime when the Ba’ath Party launched a coup in 1963. The party was at this stage a small organisation, which had attracted a layer of nationalists with its message of Arab unity, modernisation and socialism. It was, however, virulently anti-Communist, and used the opportunity of Qassim’s overthrow to massacre thousands of Communists and trade unionists.
The Ba’athists lost power as quickly as they had gained it, and Iraq was ruled by Abdul Salam Arif, Qassim’s former deputy. Arif was replaced by his older brother, Abdul Rahman, following his death in a helicopter accident in 1966. The elder Arif did not last long in power : he was over-thrown in 1968 by the Ba’ath Party. Second time around the Ba’athists were better organised, founding a regime which lasted until the US invasion. The 1970s saw the Ba’ath Party consolidate its grip on power. The nationalisa-tion of Iraq’s oil industry in 1972 gave the state complete control of the country’s oil wealth, which it invested in infrastructure, the welfare state and the military. A vital feature of Ba’athist rule was the redistribution of some of the oil wealth to health, education and social services. Internal rivals were neutralised-including the Communist Party, which joined the government as a junior partner in 1972-or eliminated.
In 1979 Saddam Hussein, then vice-president, launched a coup against Iraq’s ruler, Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr. He purged the Ba’ath Party, con-solidating the position of his closest supporters and relatives from his home town of Tikrit. Within a year he launched an attack on neighbouring Iran, hoping to wring a favourable settlement from a country reeling from the 1979 revolution, and to strike a blow at a growing Shia Muslim opposition at home. Saddam also calculated that Iraq’s attack on an Iran ruled by Shia clerics would find favour with the US. In the event, the war dragged on for eight years, at the cost of around a million lives. Thanks to American support, Iraq survived the conflict, albeit with a battered economy and crip-pling debts.
Less than two years later Iraqi troops were on the march again, this time into Kuwait. Instead of turning a blind eye, as Saddam hoped, US president George Bush Snr used the opportunity to impose a ‘New World Order’ founded on US imperial hegemony. Iraqi forces were driven from Kuwait in February 1991 by a US-led coalition, but Bush Snr stopped short of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, preferring a weakened Ba’athist regime to running the risk of the break-up of Iraq and regional instability. A decade later, support for the US policy of keeping Iraq isolated and impoverished through sanctions was draining away. The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 provided the opportunity for a change of direction : the countdown to invasion began.
One of the tragedies of the Ba’athist era was that the hopes of national liberation and social justice, of economic development with real democracy, were crushed. Far from freeing Iraq from imperialism, the Ba’ath Party, despite its nationalist rhetoric, cultivated close ties with the US. As early as 1969 even Iraq’s old colonial masters recognised a potential future ally in Saddam. In a confidential memo to the Foreign Office that year, the British ambassador to Baghdad wrote, ‘I should judge him, young as he is, to be a formidable, single-minded and hard-headed member of the Ba’athist hier-archy, but one with whom, if only one could see more of him, it would be possible to do business’.6 Over the next two decades the British and US gov-ernments did business with Saddam, including selling him weapons for his war against Iran and the repression of the Kurds.
These were also years which exposed the bankruptcy of the left. The Communist Party, despite its repression by the Ba’athists during the 1960s, supported the Iraqi regime between 1972 and 1978, as Sami Ramadani explains :
They were tireless in their efforts within Iraq, and here in Britain, to convince the unions and the Labour Party to accept Saddam’s tyranny as a reformed regime... Saddam, who was described then by the ICP leaders as representing the ‘left wing’ of the Ba’ath Party, even published a pamphlet entitled One Trench or Two Trenches ? to remind them of their role, which later included the crushing of the 1977 Kerbala uprising. Iraqis, including some ICP members, who continued to expose Saddam’s fascist policies abroad, and even those he killed and tortured at home, were dubbed ‘infantile leftists’ or ‘reactionary Kurds’ by the ICP leadership.7
Their support for the Ba’athists did not save the party from repression. In 1978 the Ba’ath Party turned on the Communists, executing thousands and imprisoning many more.
Shia opposition : between rebellion and tradition
The changing names of Sadr City, a poor suburb of Baghdad, give a glimpse of the failed promise of the national liberation movement of the 1950s. The town’s builder, Abdul Karim Qassim, the general who overthrew Iraq’s monarchy in 1958, called it Madinat al-Thawrah-Revolution City. It was a fitting name, as the area’s inhabitants had played a central role in the urban insurrections of the 1950s, and it was a stronghold of the Communist Party. But in the 1970s the city took on a different political colouring as the Da’wah Party began to recruit the Shia poor for the Islamic revolution. Today the area is a stronghold of the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The rise of a Shia opposition movement had many roots. The co-option of the Communist Party by the Ba’athists created opportunities for Shia Islamists to recruit some of those who, in earlier generations, would have looked towards the left. The founders of the Da’wah Party, junior clerics in the theological colleges of Najaf in the late 1950s, recognised the threat that Communism posed to traditional clerical authority. In response, the Da’wah promoted Islamist theories of economics and government as the intellectual foundations for a Shia political movement.8 Together with lay activists, the young clerics began to build a new a Shia political party.9
The new organisation acted as a bridge between the traditional cler-ical hierarchy and a younger generation of Shias. Senior clerics officially kept their distance from the new movement, allowing lay activists and junior clerics a prominent role in building the party. The great Shia religious festi-vals provided the focus for the new movement. The processions commemorating the fall of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in battle in Kerbala swelled dramatically during the 1970s after years of decline. Imam Hussein’s martyrdom has often become a potent symbol for resistance to tyranny-he was killed at the end of a doomed but heroic rebellion against the Caliph Yazid, described in Shia sources as the archetype of corrupt, repressive government. The greatest confrontation came in 1977, when the pilgrimage to Kerbala turned into a spontaneous anti-government demonstration, tens of thousands strong.
The following two years saw the rise of the revolutionary movement in Iran, and the overthrow of the Shah. In Iraq the Da’wah Party was sup-pressed and many of its leading members were executed, including the party’s theoretician Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. Faced with repression and the outbreak of war, many Da’wah activists fled to neigh-bouring Iran, or turned to clandestine guerrilla activities. It was in Iran that Da’wah members and other Iraqi Shia Islamists formed the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).10 Beneath the surface the Da’wah was beginning to fracture under the pressure of exile, war and, above all, the failure of the popular protests of the late 1970s to topple the Ba’ath Party. SCIRI’s complete dependence on the Iranian government also caused major splits. During the Iran war SCIRI had its own battalion of fighters, the Badr Brigade, recruited from Iraqi refugees in Iran. With the end of the conflict, the Iranian government slowly began to reduce its support, pushing SCIRI’s leaders to search for another backer. Towards the end of the 1990s they eventually found one : the US State Department.
The social base of Ba’athism
The longevity of the Ba’athist regime is often explained in the West simply by reference to fear, torture and the mesmerising personality cult around Saddam. In fact the Ba’ath Party’s success in outlasting its predecessors in power was the result of a concerted strategy to build a social base for the new regime. Ba’athist economic policies, in particular the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1972, created the conditions for the rise of a new middle class, and allowed the redistribution of some wealth to the working class.
Under the monarchy the oil industry was controlled by the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), a consortium of multinational oil companies. Agriculture was the domain of the great landlords and was characterised by low crop yields, low productivity and oppressive social relations. These two sectors made up more than 50 percent of Iraq’s national income while industry accounted for only 5 percent. Although industrial production rose to 14 percent of national income in 1969, the vast majority of industrial enterprises were still small workshops.11 By the time of the Ba’ath coup of 1968 land reform had reduced the power of the great landlords by setting limits on landownership. The decline of agricultural during the 1970s meant it could no longer provide opportunities for political advancement and financial enrichment that it had under the monarchy. Instead the main route to wealth and power lay in securing state contracts as the Ba’athist govern-ment embarked on an ambitious spending programme in areas as diverse as health, housing, education and infrastructure. As Marion Farouk-Sluglett and Peter Sluglett explain :
Since the regime, which had become coterminous with ‘Saddam Hussein and his circle’ controlled the economy to an infinitely greater extent than any of its predecessors, it found itself in a position to dispense patronage and con-tracts on an almost unlimited scale. The main local beneficiaries were businessmen, speculators, contractors and entrepreneurs of all kinds, who came to constitute an extensive social base for the regime.12
The source of Iraq’s wealth was the huge increase in oil revenues. At the time of nationalisation in 1972 income from oil was $575 million, by the following year that figure had risen to $1,840 million and by 1974 it was $5,700 million. In part this boom was driven by increased production, but a major factor was the rise in oil prices following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. In the harsher economic climate of the 1980s the Ba’athists turned to other methods to maintain their social base. Plummeting oil prices rapidly reduced state spending power, prompting the government to privatise 47 state companies. This trend towards economic liberalisation was tem-porarily interrupted by the Gulf War of 1991, but even under economic sanctions-imposed in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait-the regime per-sisted with similar policies. In 2000 and 2001 Iraq created several free trade zones after signing trade agreements with a number of Arab countries. The distorted economy of the sanctions years created other opportunities for profit for some close to the regime. A huge black market developed. Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s eldest son, was as a major beneficiary from the illicit trade in oil, cigarettes, weapons and luxury cars.
The impact of sanctions
For US officials and their apologists in the UN and the international finan-cial institutions, Iraq’s economic and social problems today are largely the result of Ba’athist state-planning policies. As a UN-World Bank document assessing Iraq’s reconstruction needs put it in October 2003 :
The economy of Iraq has suffered 20 years of neglect and degradation of the country’s infrastructure, environment, and social services...the country’s economy has been degraded by the effects of a highly centralised and corrupt authoritarian government, sanctions, and by a command economy where prices played little role in resource allocation, and where the state (and in par-ticular the ruling regime) dominated industry, agriculture, finance, and trade.13
Far from being a footnote to Iraq’s history, as this report suggests, sanctions reshaped Iraqi society. Iraq had emerged from the war with Iran at the end of the 1980s a battered and damaged society, but one which was still basically functioning. Child mortality rates continued to fall throughout the 1980s. Per capita income at $2,840 in 1989, despite a decline from the days of the oil price boom, still placed Iraq as a middle-income country.14
The sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 reversed decades of social and economic progress.15 Ironically, Iraq’s relatively advanced levels of develop-ment made dealing with the subsequent infrastructure collapse more difficult. Before the Gulf War of 1991 urban waste disposal relied on 800 refuse vehicles. This fleet quickly dwindled to 80 lorries for a city of 5 million.16 For thousands of middle class Iraqis, an abiding memory of the 1991 war is the smell of rotting meat as the stockpiles in their fridges and freezers defrosted. They hoarded food but didn’t plan for a life without elec-tricity.17 For Iraq’s healthcare system, the return to Third World conditions was devastating. One of the criticisms directed at Iraqi government policies in the UN-World Bank report on reconstruction needs in October 2003 was that such a ‘hospital-oriented, capital-intensive model’ which required ‘large-scale imports of medicines, medical equipment and even health workers’ was unable to function in a massively impoverished society.18
In 1995 the sanctions regime changed to allow Iraq to sell some oil on the international market in exchange for food and basic goods. The ‘Oil-for-Food Programme’, as the new scheme was known, was presented as a way of alleviating the suffering of the people. However, one of the major consequences was to further reduce the capacity of Saddam Hussein’s regime to carry out the basic functions of state power. Since 1991 the Iraqi govern-ment had been providing food rations to the vast majority of the population. Although the system was used as a mechanism of social and political control, it kept millions of Iraqis alive through the harshest years of the sanctions. The collapse of the welfare system struck at a central pillar of the Ba’athist state. Saddam may have lived in extravagant palaces, but Iraqi citizens had access to one of the best welfare systems in the Middle East. The system was unequal, but even those at the greatest disadvantage often still felt that they had a stake in it.19
As the welfare system crumbled, Iraqis turned to other forces to fill the gaps. Both Sunni and Shia charitable institutions expanded to meet rising demands from a population sinking into poverty. The power base which radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr inherited from his father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was built on a network of Shia charities. The swift rise of Sunni and Shia clerics to political prominence following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is partly founded on the decade-long retreat of the state.20 Ironically, the Ba’athist leaders encouraged the ‘re-Islamisation’ of Iraqi society through state-run ‘faith campaigns’, including a mosque-building programme and a scheme providing Friday prayer leaders for both Sunni and Shia mosques.
The state’s promotion of religion was one sign of the Ba’athists’ increasingly desperate search for ideological cement for their regime. Another policy which proved similarly destructive of central state power was ‘neo-tribalism’. Amatzia Baram describes how the Ba’ath Party in 1992 reinvented itself as ‘the tribe of all tribes’.21 As with the turn towards religion, the new policy was driven by desperation. During the uprising of March 1991 which followed the defeat in Kuwait :
the Ba’ath party apparatus proved a near-total failure. Saddam himself later castigated the senior and middle-level membership for their helplessness and isolation from the masses in the face of insurrection. In his need for grassroots support against the uprising, and after it against infiltration and guerrilla activ-ities, Saddam turned to the tribal chiefs.22
In practical terms this meant giving tribal leaders licence to run private armies and to dispense tribal law. Within a few months the state was having difficulty in controlling the tribal chiefs.23 A land dispute south of Kut in October 1992 became an intertribal battle in which howitzers were used, leaving 266 dead.24
Neo-tribalism did not only cost the Ba’athist regime its monopoly on the use of armed force ; the policy also ate away at the legal foundations of the state. Where the tribal chiefs were strong, particularly in the countryside, they were able to dispense tribal justice. Since 1958 Iraq’s secular civil law code has, in theory at least, treated all citizens equally. In practice, of course, the legal system was skewed in favour of the ruling party. The revival of tribal custom as an alternative justice system, backed up by armed force, created a potential counterweight to the Ba’athist hierarchy. In some areas party and tribe intermeshed, particularly at the top of the structure. Saddam and his family had long relied more on tribal and regional loyalty than Ba’athist ide-ology. The problem was, the more that party became a synonym for tribe, the easier it was to jettison even the outward semblance of Ba’athism for per-sonal and local loyalties. The aftermath of the US invasion in 2003 showed this process in action, as important tribal leaders rapidly abandoned Saddam Hussein in favour of a relationship with the US.25
The US-led invasion of Iraq was bloody and one-sided. As coalition troops poured into Iraq from Kuwait on 20 March 2003 the Iraqi army crumbled. Ahmed Hashim of the US Centre for Naval Warfare outlined what has become known as the ‘catastrophic success’ :
Very few people expected the Iraqi armed forces to put up much of a fight against vastly better-trained and equipped coalition forces. Neither Iraq’s regular army, which was a poorly trained and demoralised force, nor the Republican Guard/Special Republican Guard, which were better trained and better-equipped forces designed both to wage wars and protect the regime, fought effectively. They simply melted away. Instead what took place was an unpleasant but short-lived episode of violent irregular combat initiated by Iraqis.26
Flushed with success, the US planned to withdraw troops as quickly as they invaded. The invasion plan rested on the central tenet of the neo-con-servative war doctrine outlined in the document ‘Iraq : Goals, Objectives and Strategy’, prepared by US officials in August 2002. According to this docu-ment the aim of war was not only to topple Saddam Hussein, but also to build a stable pro-US regime that preserved the Ba’ath-dominated bureau-cracy, while Washington turned its attention to Iraq’s neighbours, Syria and Iran.27 The Americans hoped to replace the Iraqi leadership with exiles, while the institutions would take care of the day to day running of the country. A grateful Iraqi population would ensure a smooth transition to American rule. Donald Rumsfeld, US secretary of defence, planned the invasion with small numbers of highly mobile troops backed by airpower, special forces and local allies. They would leave a ‘light footprint’ in Iraq.
On 16 April 2003 General Tommy Franks, the commander of US forces in Iraq, landed at Baghdad airport. The general was rushed to Abu Ghraib North Palace in Baghdad, one of Saddam Hussein’s homes and now the headquarters of the US army. Franks gathered his senior commanders to inform them they had 60 days to reduce the 140,000-strong invasion forces to 30,000 troops. George Bush assured Franks the day before that he would be contacting his allies to secure international troops for Iraq. The US president was confident that, although many of the US’s traditional allies opposed the war, they would fall in line now that Saddam’s statues had tumbled. Pentagon officials briefed the president on plans to enlist troops from NATO, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Poland, Britain and India-bol-stering the 30-member coalition. Advisers also assured Bush that they were expecting a functioning interim government within 60 days staffed by locals but led by exiles loyal to the US.
But fears over troop numbers split the military. In early 2003 General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that Iraq could descend into chaos if insufficient troops were deployed to maintain order. A confidential briefing warned that the rules that govern combat are different to those of occupation.28 The review, based on calculations devised during the Kosovo war, concluded that the US would need 480,000 troops to secure Iraq’s borders and cities-three times the 140,000 troops proposed by Rumsfeld. When General Eric Shinseki told the US Congress that the coalition needed a minimum 300,000 troops on the ground he was dis-missed from his post. General Jay Garner, the first US official sent to rule Iraq after the war, summed up the growing frustration inside the military :
John Abizaid [deputy commander of US troops and the most senior Arab-American in the US army] was the only one who had his head in the post-war game. The Bush administration didn’t. Condi Rice did not. Doug Feith didn’t. You could go brief them, but you never saw any initiative come from them. You just kind of got a north and south nod. And so it ends with so many tragic things.29
‘Tragic things’ were already happening as Franks was meeting his commanders : looting, burning of the major administration centres, the stripping of Iraq’s already threadbare infrastructure. Hospitals, schools and universities were emptied and set ablaze. For most Iraqis, the coalition troops brought with them chaos and anarchy. In the days after the fall of the regime many Iraqis felt the coalition had failed its first serious test : security. As Michael Gordon of the New York Times wrote a year later :
It was not long, though, before the optimistic talk of a speedy withdrawal of American forces was set aside. Neither NATO nor Persian Gulf nations wanted to put forces in Iraq. An American general was sent to New Delhi to talk to the Indians, but any hope of securing Indian troops quickly faded. Turkey later offered peacekeeping troops, but the Iraqis would not accept them. Only the Polish-led and British-led divisions became a reality.
The military had enough forces to rout the Iraqi army, but not enough to secure the country. Instead of surrendering, many Iraqi troops took their weapons home. Some joined the looting of weapons stores. In the weeks after the end of the war a small insurgency began to target foreign troops. The deadly attacks took their toll on the overstretched US forces.
The cannibalisation of the state
The economic consequences of the debilitation of the Iraqi state were quick to show themselves after the war. In some cases entire factories were disman-tled and shipped abroad. However, Iraq’s infrastructure was also cannibalised-sometimes simply to meet the day to day needs of a desperate population, and sometimes for personal gain. In a number of areas individuals or groups began to provide services to local consumers with the looted equipment. The electricity network is one area of infrastructure where this process of fragmentation speeded up after the invasion. Haifa Zangana returned to Iraq for the first time in 28 years in January 2004. She found that something as simple as switching on the TV took a great deal of ingenuity :
Middle class households may have three or four different sources of electricity, and unless you know what the different voltage is you can blow up everything in the house. There is the national grid which works for part of the time. In the house where I stayed there was also electricity supplied by the local mosque, where the Imam got hold of a large generator (during the looting) which supplies 100 houses. Then we had a small portable generator which could power one room at a time.30
In May 2003 seven of Iraq’s 18 governorates had 16 or more hours of electricity a day, but as of late May 2004 only one governorate in northern Iraq was at that level.31 Electricity supply in Baghdad was still at barely half pre-war levels by October 2004.32 The state health system also suffered from looting during the immediate aftermath of the war. In the case of hospitals near Sadr City, hospital equipment did not simply disappear into the black market. Instead it was relocated by supporters of the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr into improvised clinics which were being set up inside the area’s husseiniyas, Shia places of worship.33
Saddam’s state media went through a similar process, with TV and radio relay stations metamorphosing overnight into local private broadcasters, often run by the staff of the old state channels.34 The result was the rapid break-up of the state broadcast network, at first cheered on by US officials in the name of deregulation. As they realised that the process of fragmentation was hindering their own propaganda, a power struggle developed between some of these local stations and the Pentagon-funded Iraqi Media Network in Baghdad over access to the airwaves.35 Ironically for the US, the main winners in this media free for all have been the Arab satellite broadcasters such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya, which have a rapidly growing audience in Iraq. Meanwhile viewers in Basra barely receive the Pentagon-funded channels broadcast from the capital.
A laboratory for neo-liberalism
US planning for post-war Iraq appears to have been based on the premise that the Iraqi state was still the strong, centralised bureaucracy the Ba’ath Party built in the early days of its rule. Condoleezza Rice, US national secu-rity adviser and close confidante of the president, summed up the thinking behind the occupation :
The concept was that we would defeat the army, but the institutions would hold, everything from ministries to police forces. You would be able to bring new leadership but we were going to keep the body in place.36
Yet both before and after the war US officials were also planning to introduce market forces to break up state provision of services. USAID, the US government department responsible for US aid, awarded contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure and health and education systems to a number of US companies. Abt Associates, for example, was given a $42 million contract to ‘strengthen and stabilise’ Iraq’s health system. Abt’s ‘project brief’ specifically included the ‘inclusion of private sector providers and consumers of healthcare’.37
Health was not the only area set aside for privatisation. An order issued by US adminstrator Paul Bremer in September 2003 allowed 100 percent foreign ownership of state-owned enterprises and banks for the first time in decades. As Naomi Klein pointed out in one of her many articles exposing the corporate occupation of Iraq, this particular policy was illegal even under international law.38 Meanwhile US multinationals such as Halliburton and Bechtel were making fortunes from the reconstruction business, while Iraqi companies were initially excluded from bidding for contracts.39 A storm of protest in the local press greeted the publication of the new financial regulations.40
Other Iraqi institutions were also dismantled. The ministries of defence and information were dissolved along with the armed forces on 23 May 2003. Government employees who did nothing more for the old regime than print schoolbooks and medical bulletins suddenly found them-selves out of a job. The dissolution of the army fuelled the insurgency which began to develop over the summer of 2003. Despite a promise by US offi-cials to pay stipends to around 250,000 former soldiers in June, violent protests by army veterans broke out across Iraq throughout the summer.
Return of the exiles
For the exiled Iraqi politicians who returned with the invading forces, the post-Saddam era has not played out as promised. On the surface they appear to have gained everything they wanted : ministerial portfolios, access to lucra-tive business opportunities, freedom to build political parties. The problem is that both US officials and exiled politicians seem to have suffered from the same delusion : that there was no need to build a constituency in Iraq as long as they had one in Washington.41 Two years of occupation have already demonstrated just how false this idea is. The fragile new Iraqi state cannot deliver real political power so long as the exiles depend on US troops.
During the preparations for war the US appeared to have achieved unity among the fractious Iraqi opposition. From the two major Kurdish parties, to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to the sharp-suited former Ba’athists of the National Accord, exiled oppositionists seemed happy to attend US-sponsored conferences planning for ‘the day after Saddam’. Even the Shia Islamist groups, such as SCIRI, which have long been sponsored by Iran, became eligible for US military funding.
The coalition which made up the US-appointed Governing Council in July 2003 was very similar to the alliance of exiles courted by the US before the war. The two major Kurdish parties, the KDP and PUK, were joined by Shia Islamists including SCIRI, secular nationalists such as Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress and the former Ba’athists of Iyad Allawi’s National Accord. Sunni Islamists were represented by the Iraqi Islamic Party, while a host of smaller groups were also rewarded with a seat. The only notable additions to the list of parties which attended the conference of the Iraqi opposition in London in December 2002 were the Da’wah Party and the Communist Party. Some factions of the Da’wah Party opposed the war, as did the CP. However both joined the Governing Council when it was established by US administrator Paul Bremer. Like the British High Commissioner in the 1920s, it was Bremer who wielded real power in Iraq as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), established in the aftermath of the invasion. He issued laws and controlled the budget.
The Governing Council and the two interim cabinets of 2003 and 2004 demonstrate both the strength of the US-led occupation and its fragility. The strength of the occupation is evident in the initial appointment of the council. Far from allowing Iraqis the chance to decide their own future, this was the entirely undemocratic imposition of a handful of US allies on a conquered country. Yet the Governing Council’s dismal perfor-mance also exposed an important weakness of the occupying forces : their inability to find Iraqi partners capable of delivering even nominal support for the occupation from the rest of the population.
This failure is illustrated by opinion polls carried out for the Coalition Provisional Authority between November 2003 and May 2004, which tracked confidence in both the occupying forces and the new Iraqi state institutions. In November 2003, 63 percent of Iraqis said that they had some confidence in the Governing Council ; by April the following year that had fallen to 23 percent. The new Iraqi ministries also fared badly, with confi-dence falling from 63 percent in November 2003 to 31 percent in April 2004. Confidence in the CPA also fell sharply : in November 2003 47 percent of Iraqis polled said they had confidence in the authority. By April 2004 this had collapsed to 9 percent.42
The supposed handover of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the interim Iraqi government in June 2004 underlined the dependence of the exiles on the occupying forces. Iyad Allawi, the leader of the Iraqi National Accord, who has longstanding links to the CIA and MI6, was chosen as prime minister.43 In addition, US officials planned to leave 155 advisers in the Iraqi ministries, as well as 1,700 staff in the new US embassy which was to be paid for using $184 million of US funds previously set aside for repairs to the water and electricity sectors.44
The summer of 2003 saw rising numbers of attacks on coalition forces. The coalition reacted with mass arrests. Thousands of troops raided homes across the country, seizing men, boys and sometimes women. Soldiers appeared at night, smashed the front door and arrested the men. Women were roughly handled, and money and other personal treasures were often stolen. On 27 June 2003 a similar operation by British troops in the village of Majar al-Kabir ended with a local uprising and the death of six British military policemen. On 3 June 2003 thousands of Iraqis marched through Baghdad demanding an end to the arrests and humiliating body searches of Iraqi women. Demonstrators from Shia and Sunni neighbourhoods threatened to take up arms if the raids did not stop. The coalition responded with more raids and arrests.
Long before the world saw the pictures of torture and abuse broadcast in April 2004, Iraqis had come to fear the name Abu Ghraib. The prison, a notorious torture centre under Saddam Hussein, rapidly filled up again with prisoners of the occupying forces. By September 2003, as many as 10,000 were detained. For the towns in the eye of the storm, the effect was devas-tating. According to the coalition’s own records, 325 detainees were from Fallujah, ranging in age from a man of 82 to half a dozen 16 year olds.45
The patience of Iraqis who welcomed the initial invasion began to drain away. Nidal al-Jaza’iri, a representative of women’s and children’s organisations in Basra, described how in the first days after the invasion many people hoped that life would improve :
NGOs came to Basra and made a lot of promises, but they often just repainted the walls and made superficial repairs. Schools have still not been rebuilt. In many schools the roof still leaks and the floor is just mud. Children come home each day covered in dirt from the mud floor at school. All the ministries were shut down and people lost their jobs. The port was closed and unemployment soared.There have been a lot of demonstrations. People protested about the election of the governor and the appointment of the chief of police in Basra. Negotiations began with the occupying troops. People began to mobilise ; they began to ask, ‘What about the future ?’ But it was impossible to negotiate with the multinational troops.46
Across the country deadly car bombs, roadside bombs and ambushes began to target troops. The campaign was often indiscriminate, causing large numbers of deaths among locals. But after each bomb outraged mourners would turn their anger on the occupation troops. By the end of the summer unrest had spread across the country. In Basra crowds burned fuel tankers and threw stones at British troops. Kuwaiti businesses were targeted after rumours spread that they were stealing oil. Across the country gangs of Iraqis seized fuel tankers and ransacked police stations. From Mosul to Samara, Najaf to Iskandariya, a new popular movement was forming. Street com-mittees, tribes and the mosques stepped into the vacuum left by the collapse of the regime.
Dr Fatima Saloum, editor of the Al-Mutahid newspaper from Baghdad, described how ordinary people began to take matters into their own hands :
It is the ordinary people who began rebuilding the schools, cleaning the streets, running the hospitals-many of which were badly damaged by US bombs. People began to ask, ‘What use are all these armies ? They don’t even know how reconnect the electricity.’ We quickly realised that we had to do this ourselves, that we had to run our own towns and cities.47
Regime elements ?
The occupying forces insisted they were battling ‘regime diehards’. Rumours began to circulate that many units of the Iraqi army withdrew from the battlefield to put into effect a pre-arranged plan to cripple the occupation. The rumours were given weight by interviews with some of the Iraqi resistance and an incident recounted by Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector, who recalled finding evidence in 1996 that the regime was preparing an insurgency in case of war.48 However, Ahmed Hashim of the US Centre for Naval Warfare argues that there is little evidence that the Ba’athist regime was capable of this :
Iraqi officials warned before the war that they would use any method to fight the coalition. Even this bravado was not translated into facts on the ground as the regime failed to carry out an effective insurgency campaign or conduct urban combat in the main cities such as Baghdad. Saddam believed himself betrayed by his officers ; this was a charge repeated by his youngest daughter Raghad from exile in Jordan.49
UPI correspondent Mitchel Prothero met some of Saddam Hussein’s former supporters in Baghdad. He spoke to a local resistance leader with the nom de guerre Abu Mujhid :
Abu Mujhid said he did not want to fight the Americans when they first arrived in April. ‘Saddam, I liked him. He was a strong leader, but I was in the Ba’ath Party and I knew that his men, mostly even Saddam’s sons, were corrupt. They stole and stole from the Iraqi people. So I waited to see whether the Americans would liberate or occupy our lands. Before 1991 Saddam was a strong leader that killed his enemies. But the honest people were left alone. If a man was good and didn’t involve himself in bad things, it was OK. But after 1991, because of the Americans and the war in Kuwait, Saddam became crazy and started killing even good people.50
Alarm grew in Washington that the insurgency was derailing plans for reconstruction. Helicopters, tanks and armoured vehicles were attacked. Oil pipelines were sabotaged. Interpreters and officials working for the occupa-tion were assassinated. As the attacks became more daring and better coordinated, the toll on coalition troops began to seriously affect US control. On 26 October 2003 Paul Wolfowitz, the leading hawk and architect of the invasion, was nearly killed in a rocket attack on the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad. Paul Bremer narrowly survived a roadside bomb. Washington reacted by making plans to accelerate the handover to an interim Iraqi government. The date was set for 30 June 2004. On 13 December the Americans finally had a breakthrough. A dishevelled Saddam was captured and paraded in front of the world. The Americans believed they had struck a mortal blow to the resistance. Their celebrations proved prema-ture. Even Abu Mujhid, the former Ba’athist, explained his decision to fight had been taken after US promises to build a new Iraq turned sour :
[The Americans] promised to liberate us from occupation, they promised us rights and liberty and my colleagues and I waited to make our decision until we saw how they would act. They should have come and just given us food and some security. Even today I feel like I cannot drive my car at night because of Ali Baba [the Baghdad slang for criminals]. It was then I realised that they had come as occupiers and not as liberators, and my colleagues and I then voted to fight. So we began to meet and plan. We met with others and have tried to buy weapons. None of us are afraid to die, but it is hard. We are just men, workers, not soldiers.51
Paul-Marie de la Gorce noted in Le Monde Diplomatique that Saddam’s capture removed the last obstacle to a unified opposition :
Saddam Hussein was no doubt a factor that divided rather than united, a handicap rather than an advantage, and it was not in him that the Iraqi resis-tance could have found popular support without which, as with any clandestine resistance, it was not able to exist and act. After the capture of Saddam Hussein and the massive arrests that followed, the military resistance was able to integrate the former partisans of the president who wished to continue their struggle.52
Much of the coverage of the insurgency in the Western media has focused on radical Islamists such as the Tawhid and Jihad group supposedly led by Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi. The Jordanian militant also featured prominently in US claims of a link between the Ba’athist regime and Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaida network, despite the fact that he was also supposed to have joined a Kurdish Islamist group opposed to Saddam Hussein. Yet despite the media hype, Tawhid and Jihad is marginal to the insurgency. Out of 2,700 attacks on the occupying forces in August 2004, only six were attributed to Zarqawi’s group. Moreover, the handful of radical Islamists in Iraq who model themselves on Al Qaida represent only the fringe of a much broader Islamist movement.53
Both Sunni and Shia Islamist groups began to grow in Iraq long before the emergence of Al Qaida. They were strengthened by disillusion with Ba’athism and by the failure of the left to offer an alternative to Arab nation-alism. In addition, Ba’athist repression meant the mosque was often the only public space where people could meet and discuss, provided they used the language of religion. Iraqi Kurdistan, which was outside of Iraqi central gov-ernment control during the 1990s, also saw the development of a powerful Sunni Islamist current. Local supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as an electoral threat to the established Kurdish parties. During the same period elsewhere in Iraq, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr led a Shia Islamist revival based on the notion of an active political and social role for the clergy.
After the US invasion Sunni clerics in towns like Fallujah emerged as a political leadership for local resistance fighters, while Muqtada al-Sadr created a militia that joined a nationwide insurrection against the occupation in April 2004. This did not mean, however, that all resistance fighters were Islamist cadres. In many areas nationalists, former Ba’athists and Islamists worked side by side, drawn together by the shared aim of ending the occu-pation. As Zaki Chehab explained in The Guardian :
In the back streets of Mosul, soon after the fall of the city, I came face to face with a group of armed men, shouting and firing shots in different directions. I asked who they were : some introduced themselves as former Ba’athists, others said they belonged to Islamist organisations. Though ideologically worlds apart, they explained that they all took their orders from the same committee in the city, which was headed by a group of religious leaders. I later found there were similar relationships in Fallujah and Samarra.54
A fighter from Mosul tells how groups of fighters from different polit-ical currents would cooperate :
Let’s not mix the terms. The word ‘resistance’ has a national meaning. The ‘jihad’ is for Allah, and for me I’m doing it for Allah. But many resistance fighters are not strict Muslims, and do not pray. But they are fighting the occupation, and they face death doing that. If you go on a mission you only have a one in four chance of coming home. The secular resistance and Islamic resistance cooperate because our objective is the same-we have the same goal.55
Another interview with fighters from a Sunni Islamist group, the Army of Light, confirmed that Islamists saw themselves as the natural leaders of the resistance. A reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald met the leader of the cell, who gave his name as Ahmed, in a Baghdad suburb, asking him where authority lay in his movement :
It’s with the sheikhs in the mosques. Ba’ath Party people and former members of the military are not allowed to be our leaders. Ba’athists are losers ; they didn’t succeed when they worked for the party. We now have a single, jihadist leadership group that operates nationally.56
The rise of Muqtada al-Sadr
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein three major political trends have developed among the Shia clergy. Leading members of the Da’wah Party and SCIRI accepted seats on the Governing Council and positions in the interim gov-ernment. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is one of the most senior Shia clerics in the world, at first took a quietist position, arguing that the clergy should not get involved in politics. He later criticised the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Governing Council for delaying national elections and rejected the transitional constitution signed in March 2004. Muqtada al-Sadr represents a third trend : strongly opposed to the occupa-tion, more insistent in its calls for the clergy to take an active role in government, and prepared to take up arms against the occupation.
Before the fall of Saddam Hussein few outside Iraq had heard of Muqtada al-Sadr. However, if an opinion poll commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority in May 2004 was accurate, Sadr is the second most popular figure in Iraq, after Ali al-Sistani. Nearly 70 percent of those questioned said they supported or strongly supported him.57 Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, Muqtada al-Sadr revived his father’s practice of holding Friday prayers in the Great Mosque in Kufah. Between 1997 and his death in 1999 thousands flocked to hear Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr preach. Eventually, his popularity grew too much for the Ba’athist regime, and he was killed. Like his father before him, Sadr has used his Friday sermons to announce his political views to the world. It was from the pulpit in Kufah that he announced the creation of a ‘shadow government’ to the US-appointed Governing Council in October 2003.
Muqtada al-Sadr also created a militia, which has proved to be his most important vehicle for mobilising support. The Mahdi Army was set up in late July 2003. The organisation takes its name from the Hidden Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, the last of the infallible representatives of the House of the Prophet, whose return is said to herald the end of days. Under US occupation the militia has expanded rapidly. US officials’ decision to disband the Iraqi army in May 2003 created a pool of around 400,000 angry, unem-ployed, armed men with few prospects of work. Some have been re-employed by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s burgeoning security services, but others have gravitated towards the Mahdi Army, other militias or the resistance. Yet although the Mahdi Army has been involved in wide-scale clashes with US forces, it was not set up with the primary aim of resisting the occupation. Rather, it reflects the militarisation of Shia politics and Muqtada al-Sadr’s rivalry with other Shia leaders.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s opposition to the US-led occupation has been a magnet for the discontent of many young, poor Shias. Initial feelings of expectation and cautious hope among Shias were quickly soured by soaring unemployment and rising crime. One sign of this change in the political mood has been the response of Sadr City to US military activity. During the early months of the occupation Western journalists noted that, compared to some other areas in the capital, US soldiers often received a good welcome in Sadr City. But in November 2003 Sadr’s supporters attempted to oust the US-appointed local council.58 In the next few months of clashes US com-manders estimated that they killed 800 Iraqis in Sadr City, many of them teenage members of the Mahdi Army.59
The relationship between Muqtada al-Sadr and Ali al-Sistani illus-trates some of the contradictions in post-war Shia politics in Iraq. Sistani outranks Sadr in the clerical hierarchy. In Shia Islam every adult believer must chose a marja, a senior cleric who can issue religious judgements that are binding on his followers. Unlike the Catholic church, where there is one centralised hierarchy, there can be several marjas at once, each with a fol-lowing of millions. Working from a network of offices across Iran and Iraq, Sistani’s staff manage charitable foundations with an annual income of mil-lions of dollars.60 Muqtada al-Sadr, although too young to have achieved the status of a marja himself, inherited control of a similar organisation from his father. However, he also remains bound to the structures of clerical authority that give Sistani precedence. His appeals to his followers and the wider Shia community speak of loyalty to the Shia clergy in general, led by the theological college in Najaf, the Hawzah.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s success in challenging growing disillusionment with the occupation also reflects the weaknesses of his political rivals. The former exiles of the Da’wah Party and SCIRI may command the loyalty of an older generation of activists, but for many younger people they have been tarnished by their association first with Iran and then with the occupation. Yet he also faces a contradiction-where to take his followers once he has mobilised them. This dilemma reflects the contradictions at the heart of Iraqi Shia Islamism. Disillusion with the attempts by the Da’wah Party and SCIRI to build Islamist political parties has legitimised a return to more tra-ditional structures of Shia authority. Both models of organisation, if successful, run the risk of raising expectations of social and political change they cannot meet. Sadr’s militia is not capable of defeating US forces on its own, and despite the clergy’s attempts to plug the gaps in healthcare and education through charity work, the needs of Sadr City’s impoverished mil-lions cannot be met without state aid. Yet mobilising the kind of movement that could seriously challenge the occupation would also undermine the personalised system of clerical authority represented by Muqtada’s move-ment.
The April uprising
In many places in Iraq there is a dynamic to resistance which is driven by the direct experience of the local population. A cycle of raids and reprisals is created which in some areas has developed a momentum of its own. Fallujah is one of the most clear-cut examples, beginning with the shooting of 13 unarmed demonstrators by US troops in April 2003, through an upward curve of attacks on the occupying forces over the summer, accompanied by intense US raids. The people of Fallujah had enough reasons of their own to take up arms against the occupation without needing to look to Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi for inspiration. Other major areas where a similar process devel-oped include Baqubah, Ramadi, Sadr City, Samarra, Tel Afar and Mosul.
However, even in areas where this local dynamic does not operate, opinion polls have consistently shown that Iraqis reject the occupation on principle. A major poll carried out in March 2004 showed a remarkable similarity in responses from Sunni areas, which have borne the brunt of US military operations, and Shia areas.61 The coalition detained more people from Fallujah alone than from the whole of the eight southernmost governorates,62 yet 80 percent in both Sunni and Shia areas said they now thought of the coalition forces as occupiers. More significantly, many Shias had changed their mind in the space of a year : only 47 percent said that at the time of the invasion they thought of the coalition forces as occupiers com-pared to 64 percent who thought the same in Sunni areas. According to another poll conducted for the Coalition Provisional Authority in May, 81 percent of Iraqis thought that the occupying forces should leave.63
In April 2004 the resistance went through a qualitative change, becoming for the first time a national popular uprising. The countdown started with the closing of a newspaper close to Muqtada al-Sadr and the arrest of a senior aide for the murder of a rival cleric. Sadr’s supporters mobilised across Iraq, and members of his Mahdi Army seized government buildings in several southern governorates. US officials’ timing of their move against Sadr was disastrous. On 31 March four American mercenaries were killed by a crowd in Fallujah. The US army demanded the city hand over those responsible. The local council refused. The next day troops stormed into the town, but the resistance held its ground. The siege of Fallujah had begun.
The political impact of US forces fighting a combined Shia and Sunni insurgency was immense. Solidarity demonstrations across Iraq clashed repeatedly with troops and local police. In Baghdad tens of thousands of Sunnis and Shias filled the Sunni Umm al-Qura’ mosque for joint prayers and on 9 April 2004 over 200,000 demonstrated in Baghdad in the biggest protest for a generation. Iraqis responded to Fallujah’s appeals for medical supplies, blood and money. Across the country armed men, most of whom were local lads, attacked coalition troops with stones and guns.
The Washington Post concluded that the occupation had spent all moral and political credit with ordinary Iraqis :
The Sunni-Shia divide, already narrower in Iraq that in some parts of the Arab world, is by all accounts shrinking each day that Iraqis agree their most immediate problem is the occupation. Many here say that, whatever the value there was in deposing Saddam Hussein, Americans have exhausted their goodwill.64
The final blow to the American onslaught on Fallujah came when crowds confronted the 650-man 2nd battalion of the Iraqi Army heading towards Fallujah from their base north of Baghdad. Iraqis begged the troops not to join the attack. The soldiers, many of whom were Shias, were stunned. At a decisive moment shots were fired, wounding several soldiers. The battalion turned back to its base while preparations were made to airlift the troops into battle, but it was too late, the popular feeling had penetrated the ranks of the troops and they refused orders-the encounter with the crowds had stiffened their opposition to the mission.65
The US military struck a deal with the Fallujah city leadership to form the Fallujah Brigade, a new military force drawn from local volunteers, but which would recognise the government in Baghdad. Sa’ad al-Ani, secretary-general of the Sufi Islamic Union of Iraq from Fallujah, said that locals saw the creation of the Fallujah Brigade, made up of members of the coalition-backed Iraqi army and resistance fighters, as a victory for the resistance :
The creation of the Fallujah brigade was definitely a victory for the people of Fallujah and for the whole of Anbar province, the religious scholars of Fallujah made an agreement with representatives of the interim government and they selected members of the brigade from among the people of Fallujah.66
The uprising in April brought a political leadership closely tied to the resistance control of the city.67 Sunni religious leaders were a key component of this leadership, and through groups such as the Association of Muslim Scholars, which mediated during the battle, they were able to access a network of political support across Anbar province and into Baghdad.68 In comparison, local political leaders who had worked closely with the Americans appeared completely demoralised. Abdul-Karim Birjis, governor of Anbar province, met with militants and repented his collaboration with US forces, announcing his resignation in return for his three sons kidnapped by the group in July. His sons were later released.69
Likewise the occupying forces failed to crush the Shia rebellion. Although US commanders stated that their aim was to ‘kill or capture’ Muqtada al-Sadr,70 they were unable to achieve this. Instead the Mahdi Army mobilised in Najaf, taking over the shrine of Imam Ali and other sites in the holy city. Eventually, following mediation from other Shia clerics, and an appeal by Ayatollah al-Sistani for all forces to withdraw from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, Muqtada al-Sadr called on the Mahdi Army vol-unteers to return to their home governorates. While this was a long way from his aim of uniting all Shia forces under his banner, it was nonetheless a humiliating retreat for the US.
After the stalemate in Najaf the US attempted to subdue Sadr City. The Americans wanted to mount patrols in the area and demanded an end to attacks on their convoys and the right to mount patrols through the slum. The military also feared the Mahdi Army would reorganise and rebuild its forces. The battle for Najaf, although a stalemate, exposed the militia’s lack of organisation. The young fighters fought bravely, but showed less coordi-nation than the Sunni resistance groups. The US feared they could overcome their lack of tactical know-how : rumours that Sunni insurgents were training Shia fighters alarmed the military.71
The Americans decided to confront the Mahdi Army in Sadr City, but Sadr’s young fighters were now in their stronghold, and after several tough battles and mounting American casualties the US turned to devas-tating air strikes. Sadr compromised and agreed to disarm his fighters but an American-backed ‘cash for guns’ scheme only netted hundreds of obsolete weapons.72 The occupying forces also abandoned attempts to impose their political control on the area, after the head of the US-backed local council was assassinated at the end of April 2004. The council suspended its meet-ings indefinitely, leaving US soldiers to guard the sandbagged building which had served as its headquarters.73
Over the following months coalition and Iraqi government forces lost political as well as military control of a number of cities and towns, including Tel Afar, Samarra and Sadr City. It is a grim testament to the political and military failures of the occupation that Fallujah, which fell to US forces with barely a shot fired in March 2003, was now under the control of the resis-tance. By 22 July 2004 Robert Fisk could report in the Independent, ‘For mile after mile south of Baghdad, the story was the same : empty police sta-tions, abandoned Iraqi army and police checkpoints and a litter of burnt out American fuel tankers and rocket-smashed police vehicles down the main highway to Hillah and Najaf.’
As the insurgency deepened in spring 2004 Sunni and Shia Islamists both seemed to be looking to Lebanon for inspiration. There the struggle to liberate South Lebanon from Israeli occupation was led by Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist group, which mobilised other forces to join the fight against the Israelis by focusing on national liberation, rather than an Islamist agenda. In April 2004 Muqtada al-Sadr declared that he was Hezbollah’s ‘striking arm’ in Iraq, while Sheikh Harith al-Dari, head of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, an important organisation opposed to the occupation, travelled to Beirut to meet Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader.
Rendezvous in Samarra
In response to their failures in April the Americans developed a new strategy designed to split the leadership inside the urban areas from the militants. The strategy aimed at drawing political leaders hostile to the occupation into cooperation with the Baghdad government, while tempting moderates like Ali Sistani into sanctioning the elections. Local leaders were presented with a choice : if they called off the resistance and recognised Allawi’s government then the US would allow the councils that sprung up during the uprising to continue running the cities-provided Iraqi police controlled the streets. A further incentive was added : millions of dollars of reconstruction aid. The deal also included handing over members of the resistance in return for a US pledge not to interfere in city affairs. The alternative was invasion and destruction, with an emphasis on targeting civilians under the cover of tar-geting militant strongholds.74
The Washington Post spelt out the change of heart :
The new Pentagon plan, devised over the summer [of 2004], centres on enticing more Sunnis into the political process while targeting the Islamic extremist groups for elimination. It depends heavily on building up Iraqi forces more successfully than in the past year and breaking the bureaucratic logjams that have stymied flows of reconstruction aid into formerly rebel-held cities such as Samarra to win over civilian populations.75
The Americans hoped to isolate the militants from their bases inside the urban areas, thus allowing the US to control the elections, or ensure levels of participation that would produce legitimacy for a pro-US govern-ment. During the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s British forces used a similar combination of military force and political co-option to deal with an armed struggle for independence led by the Malayan Communist Party. They isolated the guerrillas from their supporters, while building up support for moderate Malay leaders by promising to grant independence.76
After the guns fell silent in Najaf, US troops blockaded the major bridge into Samarra in September 2004. The blockade split the city council, with a group of clerics acquiescing to US demands for patrols and the recog-nition of the Baghdad government. US troops entered the town, seized the town hall and proclaimed a pro-American local government. The resistance, backed by a section of the city’s religious leadership, announced the forma-tion of an alternative government allied to Fallujah-triggering a week-long battle before the insurgents melted away. This US strategy appeared to be a success.
However, events in northern Iraq demonstrated that the resistance was capable of crossing Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divisions. After seizing control of Samarra the Americans turned their attention to Tel Afar, in a move that would drive a wedge between the Shia majority Turkmen, their Sunni Arab allies, and the American-backed Kurdish peshmerga. Tel Afar had become the hub of the resistance smuggling operations on an important route from Syria into Iraq. Along its border hundreds of resistance fighters could slip into Syria and out of the reach of US troops.
The Turkmen leadership rejected an American ultimatum to disarm the resistance. The city would pay a heavy price. The US unleashed a pun-ishing bombardment, killing hundreds of civilians and driving over 250,000 of the city’s 350,000 population into refugee camps. But far from engaging the Sunni Arabs, American troops also found themselves battling local Turkmen. For Michael Schwartz, this highlighted one of the most signifi-cant aspects of the insurgency :
While it is clear that many Shia Turkmen support the guerrillas, the US army insists, and some independent observers agree, that many if not all the insur-gents are Sunni Arabs. If this is true, it would constitute an unprecedented alliance between ethnicities within Iraq, one that presages a more resourceful and unified insurgency.77
Once the battle was won, US commanders turned to Kurdish militias to patrol the defeated city. The Americans hailed Tel Afar as a victory, but the price could turn out to be high for the occupation, as its impact was to forge an alliance between the city’s population and the resistance. Turkmen feared Kurdish control of the city, and seemed prepared to tie their fate to that of the resistance in order to prevent this happening. By November 2004 the resis-tance had re-emerged in Tel Afar.78
Fallujah was the main goal of the new American offensive. The city at the centre of the insurgency was a model of a liberated Iraq. With its local leadership and close ties to the resistance Fallujah was the political heart of the independence movement : it had to be destroyed. The city leadership that emerged in April was given an ultimatum : surrender foreign fighters, submit to Allawi’s authority and accept US patrols. The city rejected the ultimatum. As the city fought 15,000 US troops backed by artillery, air power and armour, thousands of fighters took to the streets across Iraq, driving out police and national guards. The US was trapped in a circular war, seizing one city, only to lose another.
For the occupying forces, this may be a risk worth taking. The destruction of the city would reinforce the new strategy : recognition and aid, or resistance and destruction. In November a fighter from Mosul out-lined the impact the assault had on resistance strategy : ‘If Mosul becomes like Fallujah, and all the people start fighting, the Americans will call in the air force and destroy the city. Many of us feel that guerrilla attacks are better than a city-wide insurrection’.79
The assault on Fallujah devastated the city. In tactics borrowed from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, US troops bulldozed homes and laid waste to whole city blocks. The death toll for Iraqi civilians is estimated at around 3,000, with countless injured. Over 70 US troops also died in the offensive, in a week that matched the casualty rates during the Vietnam War, a further 800 were wounded. Despite the devastation and appalling loss of life, the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies was damning in its appraisal of US military strategy. In a document entitled ‘Playing the Course’ the think-tank declared :
The bad news is that the US military victory in Fallujah probably only affected 10 to 20 percent of the full time Sunni insurgents in Iraq, and many seem to have escaped. Other Sunni insurgents attacked throughout Iraq during the fighting, and had considerable success in starting an uprising in Mosul. The decision to attack Fallujah was opposed by Iraq’s Sunni president, its leading group of Sunni clerics, and a number of other Iraqi politicians. Sunni Arab media coverage was almost universally hostile both inside and outside Iraq, and these negative images were compounded by TV coverage that appeared to show a US Marine killing a defenceless, wounded prisoner and then a devastated and deserted city.80
The limits of resistance
For the occupying forces and their supporters, the face of the Iraqi resistance is the bearded figure of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi-despite the marginal mili-tary importance of his group. Yet there is no one single movement or coalition which pulls together the diverse strands of the resistance across Iraq. In some ways this can be a strength : the fact that, even without the development of such a national political or military structure, thousands of attacks on coalition forces take place each month demonstrates more clearly than ever that this is a genuine popular insurgency.
However, the lack of a national political voice has also proved a handicap, as the debate over whether to participate in the elections demon-strates. The ferocious assault on Fallujah prompted the Association of Muslim Scholars to call for a boycott of the elections, and pushed the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the few Sunni organisations to participate in the coali-tion-backed Governing Council, to back the call and withdraw from the government. Yet prominent Shia figures who oppose the occupation have been more equivocal-Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Shias to take part in the elections. Muqtada al-Sadr suggested that if a neutral body was set up to oversee the polls there would be no need for a boycott, merely urging Iraqis to ‘follow their conscience’ if they were not convinced that the elec-tions were honest.81 On one level, a boycott by Sunni groups would seriously damage the elections’ credibility. However, it would also highlight weaknesses in the Sunni-Shia alliance against the occupation which emerged in the April 2004 uprising.
Islamist groups have played a leading role in the resistance, and it is possible for a national liberation movement to develop with an Islamist lead-ership, as the experience of Lebanon demonstrates. But the question of forging links of resistance across sectarian and ethnic divisions remains important, as at the moment neither Sunni nor Shia clerics in Iraq can on their own speak for a genuinely national movement. Resistance has been most successful when it has appeared as a force for national unity with a broad popular appeal, rather than as a specifically Sunni Islamist or Shia project. One of the turning points in the April 2004 uprising was when Shia Iraqi troops on the way to Fallujah mutinied and refused to join the attack.
The April uprising exposed deep problems for the occupying powers. US forces were not able to crush a combined Sunni-Shia uprising by force. Their local allies in the Governing Council and the Iraqi government were exposed as impotent, while the political initiative passed to figures opposed to the occupation, such as Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunni clerical leaders in Anbar province and Baghdad. In order to extricate themselves from the crisis, US forces struck a deal which allowed them to suspend the attack on Fallujah, while they looked to the senior Shia clerics to rein in Muqtada al-Sadr.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in particular, played a key role in demobilising the Shia insurgency after April 2004. He issued a ruling which called on all armed forces to leave the holy city of Najaf, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s fighters eventually withdrew. Without his intervention US forces would have faced the dilemma of negotiating directly with Muqtada to end the confrontation-an unpalatable idea for commanders who only a few weeks previously had promised to kill him-or launching an all-out attack on Najaf, which ran the risk of setting the whole of Shia Iraq ablaze. Yet there was a price attached to Sistani’s intervention. US troops also withdrew from Najaf. Muqtada al-Sadr remained at large and his Mahdi Army rela-tively intact. Meanwhile Sistani’s role as political arbiter on a national level was enhanced. Muqtada al-Sadr had to bow to clerical authority, but so did the occupying powers.
Sistani’s support for the elections is also vital for the occupying powers. His endorsement of the polls, if it translated into a large turnout, would be an important step in legitimising whatever government took office afterwards. If, as US officials hope, this government included enough of their allies to ensure that the aims of the occupation were met, and enough of their poten-tial enemies to calm the insurgency-or at least divide it-then they might have a future in Iraq after all. The problem is that Sistani, unlike the former exiles who joined the Governing Council, is not a US puppet. Although he is of Iranian origin himself, he does not support the theory of clerical gov-ernment articulated by Imam Khomeyni in Iran, but he clearly does want to see the Shia clergy increase its social and political power.83 In his role as a reli-gious leader, he has a following of millions in Iraq, Iran and around the world. His initial opposition to US plans for delayed elections dramatically enhanced his own standing, at the expense of both his radical rival Muqtada al-Sadr and the occupying powers and their local supporters. But without credible local allies of their own, US officials can only hope that their inter-ests and Sistani’s continue to coincide. The stakes are high, as the Centre for Strategic and International Studies makes clear : ‘The US must never forget that losing the Iraqi Shia means losing the war in terms of any ability to create a representative government of the kind the US is seeking to create’.83
The struggle to end the occupation in Iraq is a fight for national liberation in the tradition of the revolt of 1920. What began as sporadic attacks on the occupying forces has developed into a deep-rooted popular insurgency, the basic aims of which are supported by the majority of Iraqis. Neither the lack of a single organisation to act as the voice of the resistance, as the FLN did in Algeria or the PLO in Palestine, nor the insurgency’s Islamist colouring should change the attitude of socialists towards it. We oppose the occupation and support Iraqis in their struggle for national liberation. The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin understood this point many years ago when, at the height of the First World War, there was a nationalist uprising in British-ruled Ireland. Lenin bitterly attacked those socialists who were more interested in their own political differences with the rebel-lion’s nationalist leadership than with the impact the uprising had on the British ruling class, who feared the revolt would infect the rest of the empire :
To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution... Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it.84
Our solidarity with the Iraqi struggle against occupation is all the more important because history shows that, although it is possible for guer-rilla movements to defeat the imperialist powers, they can only do so if the military campaign creates a political crisis for the occupying power. The National Liberation Front in Vietnam fought bravely, but could not achieve a military victory against the vastly better armed US forces. Yet the NLF did create the conditions for the political defeat of the US. Stubborn resistance led to mutinies in the US ranks with troops eventually preferring to kill their officers rather than fight the guerrillas. Meanwhile, the growth of the anti-war movement in the US created a political crisis for the ruling class. As protests grew and casualty rates spiralled, the politicians began looking for a way out.
The ingredients for a US defeat on a similar scale to Vietnam are present today. The size of the anti-war movement around the world is much greater than at a similar stage in the Vietnam War. The crisis in Iraq has already shaken other countries in the Middle East, such as Egypt, which saw its biggest demonstrations for 25 years in protest at the invasion. US military resources are desperately overstretched in Iraq, as the tours of duty for combat troops are continually extended to cope with the demands of counter-insur-gency. Yet possible is not the same as inevitable. It took nearly 20 years before sporadic guerrilla warfare developed into a national liberation movement in Palestine. The devastation of Fallujah proves to what inhuman lengths our rulers are prepared to go to in order to crush the insurgency.
Despite this, they are still vulnerable. Tony Blair knows that the war may cost him votes at the next election, even if he wins another term in office. A prolonged occupation will further drain government resources and is likely to continue to eat away at Labour’s electoral support. The fighters in Fallujah, Tel Afar and Sadr City are playing their part : it’s time for our movement to rise again.
Thanks to Kamil Mahdi and Dave Renton for reading and commenting on drafts of this article.
1 : Quoted in T Ali, Bush in Babylon (Verso, 2003), p50.
2 : G Bell, Letter, 2 July 1921, Gertrude Bell Archive, Robinson Library, University of Newcastle, available online
3 : See A Alexander, ‘Daring for Victory : Iraq in Revolution 1946-1959’, in International Socialism 99 (Summer 2003), for a fuller analysis of this period.
4 : D McDowell, A Modern History of the Kurds (London, 2000), p297-299.
5 : H Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton, 1978), pp901-902.
6 : Confidential memo from British Embassy, Baghdad, to Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 20 December 1969, National Archives, FCO 17/871.
7 : S Ramadani, ‘Open Letter to Alex Gordon’, 30 October 2004, available online
8 : Baqir al-Sadr’s two principal works were Iqtisaduna (Our Economy) and Falsaftuna (Our Philosophy), which discussed alternatives to Marxist and free market economic and political theories. See F A Jabar, The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq (Saqi, 2003), pp296-307.
9 : F A Jabar, as above, p78.
10 : SCIRI is also known as the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), following an alternative translation of the group’s name.
11 : A Alkazaz, ‘The Distribution of National Income in Iraq, with Particular Reference to the Development of Policies Applied by the State’, in D Hopwood (ed), Iraq : Power and Society, (Ithaca, 1993), p198.
12 : M Farouk-Sluglett and P Sluglett, Iraq since 1958 : From revolution to Dictatorship, (IB Tauris, 2001), p173.
13 : UN-World Bank, ‘United Nations/World Bank Joint Iraq Needs Assessment’, October 2003, p8,
14 : P Ording-Beecroft and S Ethelston, ‘Facts and Figures : theImpact of Sanctions on Iraq’, Middle East Report (Spring 1998),
15 : See A Arnove (ed), Iraq under Siege : the Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War (Southend Press, 2002) for an in-depth discussion of the impact of sanctions on Iraqi society.
16 : UN/World Bank, as above, p21.
17 : Nuha al-Radi provides an account of the impact of the war on one such middle class Iraqi family in Suleikh, a northern suburb of Baghdad, in N al-Radi, Baghdad Diaries : 1991-2002 (Saqi, 2003).
18 : UN/World Bank, as above, p29.
19 : One striking aspect of the war between Iraq and Iran was the ability of the Iraqi state to mobilise Iraqi Shia to fight against their Iranian co-religionists by appealing to a sense of Iraqi Arab patriotism. In fact the war left many Iraqi Shia deeply mistrustful of the Iraqi Shia Islamist groups, such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq which fought with the Iranians. It is also not true that poverty and wealth in Iraq have ever exactly overlapped with ethnic or religious differences. In building a case for war, US officials have often stressed that the policies of Saddam Hussein favoured a Sunni minority in central Iraq, at the expense of the Kurds and the Shia. This did not mean that every area in the Shia south was uniformly poor, however. The two shrine cities of Najaf and Kerbala experienced an economic revival during the late 1990s, for example, as a result of an increase in the pilgrim trade.
20 : Ironically, it could be argued that war and sanctions only achieved in a more chaotic and comprehensive fashion what market forces and structural adjustment would have accomplished anyway. The continued growth of Sunni and Shia Islamism in Iraq mirrors the experience of many countries in the Middle East, where Islamic charities have filled the gaps in a decaying welfare state, and Islamist parties have picked up the votes of those disillusioned by the failure of secular nationalism.
21 : A Baram, ‘Neo-tribalism in Iraq : Saddam Hussein’s Tribal Policies 1991-96’, International Journal of Middle East Studies no 29 (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
22 : As above, p7.
23 : It is important to realise that the office of ‘tribal chief’ is essentially a political one. Tribal genealogies were manipulated by Saddam Hussein to promote chiefs allied to the government and isolate his opponents or potential rivals.
24 : A Baram, as above, p18.
25 : In Al-Anbar province, for example, tribal leaders were appointed by US commanders to lead the provincial council in the aftermath of the war.
26 : A S Hashim, ‘The Sunni Insurgency in Iraq’, Centre for Naval Warfare Studies, 15 August 2004.
27 : M Gordon, ‘The Conflict in Iraq : Road to War ; the Strategy to Secure Iraq did not Foresee a Second War’, New York Times, 19 October 2004.
28 : As above.
29 : As above.
30 : H Zangana,’What’s Happening to Women in Occupied Iraq ?’, talk given on 15 March 2004 at London School of Economics.
31 : United States General Accounting Office, ‘Rebuilding Iraq’, GAO, June 2004,
32 : M O’Hanlon and A Lins de Albuquerque, Iraq Index, Brookings Institution, 12 November 2004, p24
33 : H al-Amin, ‘The Republic of Muqtada al-Sadr and the New Iraq-Part 3’, Al-Hayat, 12 July 2003, p16, (in Arabic).
34 : T Kafala, ‘Iraq’s Media Free-For-All’, BBC News Online, 27 June 2003,
35 : A Sennitt, ‘Mosul TV Fights for Independence’, Radio Netherlands Wereldomreop website, 14 July 2003,
36 : M Gordon, as above.
37 : Abt Associates website, ‘Project Brief : Iraq Health System Strengthening’, no date
38 : The Hague Convention of 1907 grants an occupying power the right of ‘usufruct’ of state property. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary defines ‘usufruct’ (possibly the ugliest word in the English language) as an arrangement that grants one party the right to use and derive benefit from another’s property ‘without altering the substance of the thing’. Put more simply, if you are a house-sitter, you can eat the food in the fridge, but you can’t sell the house and turn it into condos. And yet that is just what Bremer is doing : what could more substantially alter ‘the substance’ of a public asset than to turn it into a private one ? N Klein, ‘Bring Halliburton Home’, The Nation, 6 November 2003,
39 : Subcontractors were apparently limited to the countries of ‘the free world’ (everywhere except Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Syria, Libya and North Korea), according to USAID officials in April 2003. This policy changed after the lifting of sanctions, but long before then the prime contractors had already been chosen. See ‘Video : Electric and Water Systems Sectoral Conference’, USAID website , 29 April 2003,
40 : Al-Zaman, Baghdad, 23 October 2003, (in Arabic).
41 : ‘Allawi has always assumed, in many ways correctly, that he didn’t need a constituency in Iraq as long as he had one in Washington’-Danielle Pletka, of the American Enterprise Institute, to USA Today reporter J Drinkard, in ‘Allawi’s Ascent Follows Extensive PR Campaign’ , USA Today, 2 June 2004,
42 : M Hirsch, ‘Grim Numbers’, Newsweek, 16 June 2004. Full poll results available
43 : P Cockburn, ‘Exiled Allawi was Responsible for 45-minute WMD Claim’, Independent, 29 May 2004.
44 : ‘The Imminent Transfer of Sovereignty in Iraq’, US State Department website, 13 May 2004, and Office of Management and Budget, Quarterly Update to Congress 2207 report, July 2004 mary_final.pdf
45 : Downloaded from CPA website, no date, (in Arabic).
46 : Interview with Anne Alexander and Simon Assaf, Beirut, September 2004.
47 : As above.
48 : S Ritter, ‘Defining the Resistance-It’s Not Foreign and it’s Well Prepared’, Christian Science Monitor, 10 November 2003.
49 : A S Hashim, ‘The Sunni Insurgency in Iraq’, Centre for Naval Warfare Studies, 15 August 2004.
50 : M Prothero, ‘Inside the Iraqi Resistance’, United Press International, 5 December 2003.
51 : As above.
52 : P-M de la Gorce, ‘The United States Caught in a Trap : the Post-war War in Occupied Iraq’, Le Monde Diplomatique, 15 March 2004.
53 : See C Harman, ‘The Prophet and the 40 Iraq : The rise of the resistance Proletariat’, International Socialism 64 (Autumn 1994), for an in-depth discussion of the Islamist movement.
54 : Z Chehab, ‘Inside the Resistance’, Guardian, 13 October 2003.
55 : Interview with Saseen Kawazly, Damascus, November 2004.
56 : ‘Inside the Resistance’, smh.com.au 16 August 2003.
57 : A Penketh, ‘Poll Reveals Hostility to US and Support for Rebel Cleric’, Independent, 17 June 2004.
58 : ‘Iraqi District Advisory Council Chairman Dies From Gunshot Wound’, Defend America website, 10 November 2003,
59 : E Sanders, ‘Sadr City’s “Daily Massacre” Rages as Death Toll Soars’, Los Angeles Times, 8 June 2004.
60 : According to its website, Sistani’s Iranian office constructed and manages four housing complexes for religious students and pilgrims in the Iranian city of Qom and one in Mashad. The Qom complexes are made up of 750 individual housing units, with the largest site covering 14,800 metres. In addition to housing, the complexes include libraries, mosques, facilities for recreation, bazaars and in some cases internet terminals.
Sistani’s office also provides assistance for Iraqis housed in refugee camps in western Iran, providing medical services for 7,000 patients and financial assistance for 4,000 needy Iraqi families throughout Iran. Across the Shia world, thousands of students receive monthly allowances from Sistani’s office. The website claims that more than 500,000 dollars per month is distributed in Syria, and up to 500,000 dollars per month goes to students in both Pakistan and India. In addition to the administration of the charitable work of the office, Sistani’s representatives are responsible for the payment and management of a network of preachers across Iran and Iraq. http://www.sistani.org
61 : ‘Key Findings : Nationwide Survey of 3,500 Iraqis’, USA Today, 28 April 2004,
62 : Downloaded from CPA website, no date, (in Arabic).
63 : M Hirsch, ‘Grim Numbers’, Newsweek, 16 June 2004, full poll results available online
64 : R Chandrasekaran, ‘Anti-US Uprising Widens in Iraq ; Marines Push Deeper into Fallujah’, Washington Post, 8 April 2004.
65 : T Ricks, ‘Iraqi Battalion Refuses to Fight Iraqis’, Washington Post, 11 April 2003.
66 : Interview with Anne Alexander and Simon Assaf, Beirut, September 2004.
67 : ‘Troubled Province Tries Democracy’, IWPR Iraqi Crisis Report 49, part 1, 23 February 2004.
68 : The Association of Muslim Scholars grew out of the committees set up to protect and administer mosques and Sunni religious buildings in the aftermath of the invasion. The organisation has a large following in Baghdad and in Anbar province. Unlike the Iraqi Islamic Party, the AMS has not joined either the national or local governments set up by the occupying forces.
69 : FBIS report, Abu Dhabi TV, 5 August 2004,
70 : ‘US to “Capture or Kill” Muqtada al-Sadr’, Aljazeera.net, 12 April 2004,
71 : ‘Signs That Shiites and Sunnis are Joining to Battle Americans’, New York Times, 9 April 2004.
72 : H Heidawi, ‘Disarmament is a “Mirage”’, Associated Press, 13 October 2004.
73 : Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters had already taken over the council buildings twice, and each time were forced out by US troops. C Hauser, ‘Self-rule is Test of Nerves for Local Iraq Councils’, New York Times, 30 May 2004.
74 : M Schwartz, ‘America’s New Strategy in Iraq’, Asia Times, 29 September 2004.
75 : B Graham and W Pictus, ‘US Hopes To Divide Insurgency’, SOURCE 31 October 2004.
76 : J Newsinger, British Counter-insurgency : From Palestine to Northern Ireland (Palgrave, 2002). There was also a significant ethnic dimension to British strategy which US officials have found it difficult to replicate in Iraq. One of the Communist Party’s major weaknesses was that it drew support overwhelmingly from the large Chinese minority in Malaya, and had only a handful of members in the majority ethnic Malay population.
77 : M Schwartz, as above.
78 : ‘Final Stand for Fallujah Rebels’, The Mercury, 15 November 2004.
79 : Interview with Saseen Kawazly, Damascus, November 2004.
80 : Center for Strategic and International Studies, ‘Playing the Course : A Strategy for Reshaping US Policy in Iraq and the Middle East’, p20.
81 : Al-Manar TV, Beirut, 6 November 2004.
82 : Ruhollah Khomeyni’s theory of ‘wilayat al-faqih’ (guardianship of the jurist) was a controversial innovation from mainstream Shia doctrine, and is not accepted by the majority of Iraqi Shia clerics. Shia theology has developed a rationale for the separation of temporal and spiritual authority, which concedes control of the state to non-Shias (historically Sunni rulers), but leaves the Shia clergy dominant in Shia society. Khomeyni’s theory overturns this division, challenging the belief of mainstream theologians that temporal and spiritual power can only be reunited with the return of the Hidden Imam at the end of days.
84 : Center for Strategic and International Studies, as above, p21.
85 : V I Lenin, ‘The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up’, Collected Works (Moscow, 1965).
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