Saddam-lite


Such are the ironies of life. While Saddam was demonised before the invasion of Iraq for suppressing the popular uprisings of 1991, the Americans and their puppet regime have been busy doing the same (yet again). The role of the Republican Guard is being played by the US Marines. Even Saddam's tried old rhetoric was dusted off along with his policies: "criminals" and "terrorists" are at work. The new regime, at one stage, even promised to wipe the rebels out. And, in a more bizarre twist, the occupying powers have taken to calling the Iraqi insurgents against American rule "anti-Iraqi."

And with the Shia revolt, yet another of the rationales for the invasion of Iraq falls. First it was the WMD nonsense. There were none. Then it was the ending of human rights abuses. The abuses conducted by the occupying power in Saddam's old hell-hole Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have made that one redundant. Now the idea that the invasion was to "liberate" the Iraqi people is on its last legs.

It is claimed that the occupiers seek democracy. Yet they have vetoed elections from the start and, instead, created an Iraq governed by an unelected Prime Minister, the ex-Baathist head of an exile organization made up largely of ex-Baathist military officers, backed by the CIA and Britain's M16. To prove his democratic credentials, the new PM suggested that the country's January elections should be postponed. He backed down once it was pointed out by the Americans that it would not look good in the US (particularly during a Presidential election). So despite the constant repetition that "Iraq is now run by Iraqis", not one of the people currently in office was elected. An invasion over a year ago which claimed to bring democracy to Iraq has so far yielded next to nothing in the way of voting.

It could be argued that introducing democracy takes time. Fine but even minimal progress in the direction of democracy is not appearing. The Iraqi regime is restoring the death penalty. As well for murder, it applies to anyone found guilty of distributing drugs or "endangering national security." This is a tyrant's law, for any unwelcome political activity is always labelled a danger to national security. Nor should we forget that before al-Sadr began his uprising, his supporters had made their demands for elections and an end to occupation through sermons, peaceful protests and newspaper articles. The occupiers responded by shutting down their newspapers, firing on their demonstrations and bombing their neighbourhoods. It was only then that the movement turned violent.

Then there was the banning of al-Jazeera from operating in Iraq for at least one month, perhaps longer unless a government-approved panel of monitors decides its coverage has "improved." This act of censorship is particularly sinister, given that al-Sadr and the city of Najaf are being dealt with. Significantly, reporters in that city have been threatened by the police. In contrast, the insurgents welcomed reporters. Given that Najaf was turned into a free-fire zone when the Americans ordered all civilians out of downtown Najaf for their own good, this makes sense.

Yet there is more to it than a just the actions of a local despot. Al-Jazeera has often been harassed by autocratic regimes in the Middle East, but since the 2001 Afghan war it has suffered more harassment from US officials than from their Arab counterparts. "Consistently lying" and "working in concert with terrorists" were some of the terms used by US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld to describe it.

Perhaps this explains where the US appointed government is getting its inspiration from? Clamping down on al-Jazeera? America has tried to do that, repeatedly. Delaying elections? Again, the US has done that too.

Simply put, Allawi and his unelected ministers are puppets. They are well aware where the real power lies, in the 160,000 foreign troops on their soil. Does it oppose the killing of its citizens by that army? No, quite the reverse. The official line is that the "sovereign" government "invited" the US troops to crush al-Sadr (the Iraqi troops in this "joint" operation would have only been involved in attacking the shrine once the US military's relentless offensive against the Mahdi army made it possible). This was the language of every Soviet satellite state when it "invited" Moscow in to crush its own people.

Clearly, the Bush Junta's definition of "liberated" and the Iraqi definition are two entirely different things. The former define freedom as the absence of indigenous tyranny. It is perfectly compatible with a US imposed client regime and a continued US presence. Iraqis, like most people, define liberation as the end of the American occupation and their ability to choose a government of their liking. Liberation as self-determination is not in evidence in either Iraq (or for that matter, Afghanistan) and is unlikely to be seen for some time, given the popular opposition to the US. The US state preferred Iraq better as a dictatorship friendly to U.S. interests rather than as a democracy potentially hostile to U.S. interests. Just as it preferred Saddam to popular revolt back in 1991.

This major offensive was driven by the fear that the U.S. is losing control over most of the major cities in Iraq. The U.S. is no longer capable of winning the "battle for the hearts and minds" of the Iraqis. In the Sunni parts of the country, city after city has adopted the "Falluja model" -- refusing to allow the Americans in its streets and establishing its own local government. The attack in Najaf is an attempt to stop this being consolidated in Shia areas as well. So are, unmentioned, the US military's increasing use of air power as its weapon of choice. It has bombed and/or strafed Sadr City, the two million strong Shiite slum in Baghdad, Samarra, Kut, Najaf, Fallujah as well among other places.

And who is taking the brunt of this repression? The Shiites, so many of whose rebellious relatives were buried in those "killing fields" Saddam created while crushing their 1991 uprising. And where are all those pro-war leftists and liberals who were so horrified by dead Iraqis when Saddam was killing them that they supported killing more by invading Iraq? Does the fact that it is the western "liberators" who are now responsible for so many dead Shiites make so much difference? Apparently so.

A solution was achieved by mass, non-violent, direct action. The leading Shia cleric Ayatollah Sistani urged his supporters to gather on the edge of the holy city and march with him to the shrine. This tamed the US forces. And the state knew it would. Unsurprisingly, when thousands of his followers tried to reach Najaf, Najaf's chief of police gave orders to block all roads leading to the city and instructed officers to shoot demonstrators if they failed to turn back. Two mortars hit the mosque in Kufa, a Mahdi army stronghold, killing at least 25 died. Later, at least two people were killed when police in Kufa opened fire on a mixed demonstration of Sistani and Sadr supporters. A similar number were killed in Hilla. Protesters from Diwaniyyah who arrived at Najaf also received fire from the Iraqi police, with an unknown number of casualties. However, this repression did not succeed and people power stopped the US war machine (for the time being).

It is clear that the biggest losers from the second assault at Najaf are, yet again, the occupiers and their puppets. The Americans are perceived as culturally insensitive for their actions in the holy city. Moreover, they did not end the conflict, Sistani and his followers did. As for the Allawi government, instead of looking decisive, they looked authoritarian and the imperialist puppets they are. Sistani is a national hero for saving Najaf while Muqtada will survive as his base in the slums remains, even if his militia has been weakened. Ultimately, though, the big winner is the Iraqi people who have tamed a superpower by their mass action. This is the only way to defeat imperialism.

The current wave state repression belies the claim that America is a disinterested party, simply building democracy in Iraq. If so, it would have organised elections as soon as possible and left. But this war was an imperialist war, fought only to secure US interests in the region. That is why the US is building up to 14 permanent bases in Iraq. Referred to as "enduring camps", they are costing several billion and (surprise!) being built by a subsidiary of the vice-President's old company, Halliburton. Given that the Pentagon had announced the plan for them before the war, it perhaps explains why the Bush Junta apparently invaded without an exit strategy. An exit strategy is useless if you have no plans to leave.


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