Archive article from The Socialist Issue 359
Resistance in Iraq
THE HANDOVER of 'sovereignty' to the interim government of Allawi in Iraq (28 June) was meant to be a step towards 'democracy' and accelerated reconstruction.
Since taking over as prime minister, Allawi has tried to assert himself as a new Iraqi strongman. He has given himself dictatorial powers, reintroduced the death penalty, and closed down the Baghdad office of Al-Jazeera, the Bahrain-based Arab TV station. At the end of July, he authorised a new US offensive in Najaf against the militia forces of Moqtadr al-Sadr.
The intense fighting in Najaf has ignited fighting in at least seven other cities. The Shia insurgency rapidly spread from Najaf to Basra, Nasiriya and Baghdad's Sadr City. Armed conflict also intensified in the Sunni triangle, especially in Falluja. There have been hundreds of casualties, many of them civilians.
The occupying forces control only small fortified enclaves and watch-points. None of the major road routes are safe for transportation. There have been 700 attacks on oil facilities, continually disrupting exports and renewal of production facilities. Reconstruction is a fiasco. The US Congress approved $18 billion for rebuilding Iraq, but so far only about $600 million has been paid out, much of it on improving security.
Conflict in Najaf
LAST APRIL, the US made an unsuccessful attempt to smash al-Sadr's forces in Najaf. After intense fighting, the US was forced to concede control of large areas of the city to al-Sadr's militia. At the beginning of August, the US renewed pressure on al-Sadr, provoking a new uprising. Intense fighting has forced most of the civilians to leave the old town.
This is classical guerrilla warfare, between the heavily armed US forces and lightly armed, highly mobile, militia. The US has the firepower to crush al-Sadr's forces, particularly if they could smash their way into the Najaf mosque, which the militia use as their base.
The Imam Ali shrine, however, is one of Shia Islam's holiest sites. Destruction of the mosque, or even occupation by foreign troops, would cause an explosion throughout Iraq and the Arab world, and not only among Shia.
So far, the US have held back, and Allawi's government has been forced to underline the bar on US occupation of the shrine.
The main fighting in Najaf has been in the vast 'Valley of Peace' cemetery, with US forces and militia playing lethal hide-and-seek between the mausoleums and graves. This macabre battleground symbolises the guerrilla struggles now taking place throughout the country. "The closer we get, the scarcer they [the militia] become," said a US sergeant. "When we move forward they move back... you gotta give 'em credit, they got guts." US troops are increasingly demoralised by the situation. "If we stay ten years or if we stay one year," says a young corporal from Las Vegas, "we're going to leave and there's going to be chaos here."
WILL THERE be a prolonged siege in Najaf or will US-led forces attempt to smash al-Sadr's militia? Even defeat for al-Sadr in Najaf would not wipe out the forces behind him.
Al-Sadr's main support comes from Sadr City, the poor Shia area of Baghdad, which has over two million of the city's 5.5 million population. It is an area of hellishly hot and overcrowded slums, afflicted by mass unemployment. People feel a deep-rooted rage at the lack of any real progress since the overthrow of Saddam's regime. There is also fear that Allawi is attempting to reassemble Saddam's former Sunni-dominated state apparatus, especially the army, secret police, and police, cheating Iraqi's Shia majority (60%) of majority political control.
Iraqi leaders who fear the potential power of the Shia poor, denounce the Mahdi army as 'gangsters', 'fanatics', 'uneducated rabble', and so on. But al-Sadr's militia is highly organised, with a neighbourhood command structure and a communications system, together with coordinated medical care and food supply. Local police joined their demonstrations against the siege of Najaf.
THE IRAQI national conference, which convened on 15 August, was completely overshadowed by events in Najaf. Already delayed, it was boycotted by several political groups. The thousand or so delegates were charged with selecting 100 members of an interim national assembly, pending elections, scheduled for next January. The conference was shaken by mortar fire, despite heavy security and a day-time curfew imposed on the surrounding neighbourhoods.
The opening session was dominated by protests from Shia delegates, demanding an end to the siege of Najaf. "What is happening in Najaf," said one protester, "is much more important than this conference and demands our immediate attention." Another asked: "How can we have a conference if we have a war in Najaf?"
Faced with this pressure, Allawi and his ministers were forced to pledge that there would be no siege of Najaf's Golden Mosque, reversing their aggressive support for the US offensive only a few days earlier.
No matter what happens in Najaf, the resistance against US and other imperialist occupation will continue to grow. Allawi's stooge government will be more and more discredited. US imperialism faces defeat in Iraq, just as it did in Vietnam.
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