April 5, 2003

Iraq : The Irony of History

James Petras

Among the most insidious lies and distortions which the Bush/Blair regimes and their mass media outlets have spouted to justify this genocidal war is the notion that the Iraqi people would welcome the invaders as liberators and they (especially the Shiites) would rise up to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. When neither events took place - the Iraqi population is hostile to the invaders - the Anglo-US state media campaign claimed it was due to their fear of the Iraqi army, the Baath Party cadres, and the local militia. The media continued to picture the Iraqi people 'terrorized' by Saddam Hussein and waiting for the US to destroy his regime before expressing their 'true feelings' of gratitude to the invaders, their tanks, missiles and fragmentation bombs.

The theory of the Western media and the Anglo-US generals and politicians was that there was an unbridgeable gap between Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi state and 'the people' which would lead to a collapse of the army once the US-British armed forces conquered the cities and villages. The historical record and the empirical reality refutes everyone of the propositions of the US military command.

First, the war did not lead to any division or defections within the Armed Forces or the political leaders of Iraq - despite the fact that the military units were decentralized and frequently isolated from the Baghdad command.

Second, there was no popular uprising against the Iraqi regime during the first days of the US invasion nor when the invaders entered the cities. On the contrary the most effective and consistent resistance in Southern Iraq to the US invaders were the popular militia and guerrilla forces which included in their majority civilians and citizens unconnected to the elite Republican Guard or the regular army.

The heavy bombing of Basra and the British siege of the city was due to the fact that citizens, militia and soldiers fought together - not out of coercion by Saddam Hussein - but because they were Iraqi patriots defending their families, communities and nation from genocidal invaders. Whatever opposition to the regime that may have existed disappeared in the face of the massive bombardment, killing and maiming of thousands of Iraqi children, women, elders and ordinary citizens. Rumsfeld's 'total war' united the diverse political and social sectors of the Iraqi population in villages, towns and cities. Elderly peasants shot at convoys, pregnant women blew up U.S. Marines, adolescents shot at helicopters from rooftops…In the south Basra, Al-Najaf and large parts of Al-Nasiriya have not been taken despite weeks of aerial and artillery bombardment. The US-Anglo invading forces finding universal hostility and rejection have begun to indiscriminantly shoot young men for wearing the wrong type of boots and women with their huge flowing robes; above all the general command directed the airforce to use fragmentation bombs to decimate urban neighborhoods.

The local militia are not merely Baath activists, they are mostly non-political Iraqis infuriated by the death and mutilation of friends and family, the destruction of homes, schools, factories, offices and their livelihood. Baath activists mix with thousands of volunteers from poor neighborhoods and middle class exiles who have returned to fight for the Iraqi nation.

The distinctions that Western media make in portraying Iraqi resistance is false - under the conditions of a genocidal war - because bombs and missiles make no distinctions in their murderous assaults.

The Western state mass media portray Saddam Hussein as a 'dictator', a tyrant, a 'Hitler' who is hated by his people. That might have been the case among some sectors of the population before the war, but faced with the Anglo-US terror bombing, the seizure of oil wells, the occupation of the country and destruction of water, electrical and food supplies, Saddam Hussein's rejection and resistance has converted him into a popular national hero.

Many well-meaning progressive western journalists continue to try to 'balance' their reportage of US-British atrocities with continued reference to Saddam Hussein's crimes of one or two decades past as if his original sin still defines him and his political identity today - in the midst of a war against colonial invaders.

These progressive reporters cannot accept the fact that a politician like Saddam Hussein (even one who has committed grave crimes in the past) can redeem and redefine himself in new circumstances: that from being a war criminal, he is engaged in fighting against genocide; from being a client of the US against Iran, he has become a leader in a revitalization of the Pan-Arab movement seeking to overthrow corrupt, pro- US client regimes in the Middle East. History works in strange ways. Today it takes no courage to wash one's hands of the 'double demons': Rumsfeld raining bombs on civilians and the dictator Saddam Hussein arming the whole people and standing alone among Arab leaders in defending the Arab nation from re-colonization.

In the film the Battle of Algiers , a young petty thief jailed by the French colonial authorities is released and joins the National Liberation Front becoming a leader in the anti-colonial resistance and a hero of the Algerian masses. The colonial state propaganda machine would likely have described him as part of the 'criminal- terrorist conspiracy' for challenging the symbols and presence of the French colons. For the colonized people, he was seen as a heroic symbol of the nation resisting the torturers and bombers, a man who, in the course of the struggle, has transformed himself from a petty thief into a people's hero… It is possible, perhaps likely, that has also happened with Saddam Hussein: he has not retreated, he has not surrendered, he has not gone into exile, he has remained in Baghdad and he has stayed to fight despite 24 hour terror bombing and a quarter of a million invaders seeking his head. Let us not be mistaken, Saddam may personify national resistance for many, but for the vast majority of Iraqis fighting the US Abram tanks, Cobra helicopters and B52 bombers armed with little more than rifles and rocket launchers, the struggle is over objectives that transcend Saddam Hussein: they are fighting for their country, their nation, their five-thousand year civilization, their dignity as an independent people.

That is why millions of Iraqis are resisting the invaders, why pregnant women and teenagers continue to attack the occupying armies. That is something all the Pentagon experts, mass media commentators, Israeli advisers could not understand and will not understand: that force can conquer but it will never rule. That a proud and independent people will fight alongside a national tyrant turned courageous leader against a murderous conquering invader.

In the years to come, scholars of the Middle East will perhaps write of the great irony of history where self-proclaimed Western democracies committed crimes against humanity while a one-time dictator stood up and defended his people in the midst of the burning rubble of a devastated ancient city. He will be more revered in death than in life, for what he defended in the end not for his past.

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