Wednesday, November 29, 2006

National Resistance Movement or Civil War?

The other day, someone from Left Spot, which is, as far as I can tell, the blog of an old friend of mine who's now part of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), argued in a comment on my last post that I shouldn't refer to what's occuring in Iraq right now as a civil war. There are others in the revolutionary socialist left who have made similar arguments, most notably ,the International Socialist Organization (ISO) which, at least the last time I checked, had been arguing that the anti-war movement should support the Iraqi resistance.
Since I'm no longer a member of any sectarian left group, I haven't been involved in such a debate for a while, but I can see the relevance of this particular seemingly far-fetched position denying that there is a civil war going on in Iraq to the US anti-war movement, and had an email exchange about it two years ago with Rahul Mahajan of Empire Notes, who certainly doesn't see the current insurgents as a group that Americans should laud as a national liberation movement. He also argues that the situation in Iraq is now a civil war, or at least close to it, commentng that: "it’s already at somewhere not too far from the level in the Lebanese or Bosnian civil wars."
I haven't seen many articles that characterize the Iraqi resistance as a "heroic national liberation movement," though there is this one which seems to be based more in the theory of resistance than the actual on-the-ground happenings in Iraq. England's Respect party also defines the current action in Iraq as such a movement.
Loretta Napoleoni, whose book may be the most detailed look into the Iraqi insurgency, describes the resistance as follows:
Beyond the myth of Zarquawi there is a much more frightening reality made up of complex forces: independent Iraqi jihadist groups that gravitate toward Al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamo-nationalist and Baath party resistance fighters opposing coalition forces; ethnic conflict among the Sunni, Shi'ites and Kurds; fully armed and active ethnic and religious militias' and an endless stream of foreign suicide bombers. This is a scenario that may well haunt Americans for decades. It is the true nature of the insurgency.

Based on what I've read from people who take the "heroic national liberation movement" line on describing the mass killings of civilians going on in Iraq, it seems like the resistance to calling it a "civil war" has to do with what this means for whether Americans support immediate withdrawl or not, and the relationship of anti-Shi'ite violence to the relationship of the Shi'ites and the US. However, with the current situation, I don't think it's safe to say that the US is simply pro-Shi'ite anymore. Also, the assumption seems to be that if we call it a "civil war" it means we have to stay there. I don't like this particular tendency in the debate, because it seems to me to deny an apparent reality in order to justify a political position, instead of basing a strategy on what's actually happening. Second, I haven't seen anyone who's in any real contact with people in Iraq take this position, which makes me think it's ill-informed. There are plenty of people who say that the Iraqis are in a civil war - and that the civil war is being provoked by the US occupation, although it would probably not end with the occupation's departure. Patrick Cockburn, whose work I linked in the last post, and more recently, Nir Rosen on Democracy Now, and Al Jazeera are perfectly capable of taking a "troops out" now position while also describing the violence in Iraq as a civil war.
But, perhaps LS and others have more to say to explain their position?


Ivan said...


Thanks for the post, it brings up good points for discussion.

When we are looking at any situation, we need to talk about contradictions. In any situation, there are a number of secondary contradictions, conditioned and determined largely by the principle contradiction. What the advocates of a "civil war" interpretation of events in Iraq suggest is that the contradiction between Sunni and Shiite constitutes the principal contradiction. In my view, the contradiction between Resistance and collaboration is principle, while contradictions between religious sects or ethnicities constitute secondary contradictions.

What defines the terms of the principle contradiction? Mao says it's force. I agree with this criterion. By the Pentagon's own figures, Resistance attacks against the occupation are up to 180 a day. The question is, does sectarian violence outweigh this, qualitatively or quantitatively? In both respects I think the answer is an unequivocal 'no'.

From reading the Iraqi Resistance Reports, and comparing it to the accounts of sectarian violence in the bourgeois press, one can see that the vast majority of "sectarian violence" taking place is the fighting between the resistance forces and Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The resistance views attacks on Sadr's forces as anti-occupation attacks. This is because Al-Sadr is a collaborator with the occupation. Without his support, the puppet government would have collapsed a long time ago. Moreover, his militias are directly involved in the dirty work of the US counter-insurgency operations.

What most press accounts neglect to mention is that the majority of sectarian violence is committed by Shiites against Sunnis. But “Shiites” and “Sunni” don’t exist in the abstract (this is the main problem with most reporting on Iraq). They are organized into political parties. They are divided into classes. The bourgeois press consistently fails to mention that the sectarian violence is carried out by specific organizations – namely the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade (the military wing of another ruling, pro-Iranian party, SCIRI) - against specific targets: resistance fighters, neighborhoods in control of the resistance, mosques known to support the resistance, etc.

Hence the attacks are not “Shiite” against “Sunni”. They are attacks of collaborators against Resistance.

On another note, I think Loretta Napoleoni’s book is pretty weak. 90% of it is about Zarqawi, who is altogether not a very relevant to the resistance in Iraq. There is very little attempt to analyze or evaluate the nationalist resistance factions, or the role of the Baath. She spent one chapter doing this out of the whole book, and it was very unsatisfactory in terms of analysis and documentation.

Finally, it’s not true that Iraqis all view the situation as “sectarian civil war”. Fight Back! interviewed Sami Rasouli, a peace activist from Iraq (he was living in Minneapolis at the time of the interview but recently moved back).

Fight Back!: U.S. officials and media say that sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites justifies the continued occupation. What do you think?

Sami Rasouli: This is a big lie. The administration well knows that their occupation in Iraq divided the people of Iraq - pro and against the occupation. The people who support the occupation are the profiteers and the ex-patriots that accompanied the U.S. invasion. It looks like they struck a deal - we occupy your country and allow you to rule the country. And you ask for our presence, so we stay and protect you and protect our interests.

Upon assuming his post, the previous U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, announced de-Ba’athification and the disbanding of the army. These led to infighting, which is backed by some current Iraqi government officials. For 35 years, under the previous regime, 95% of Iraqis became Ba’athists, whether willingly or by force. To call for de-Ba’athification was an open invitation to all Iraqi factions to fight each other.

Those who backed the call for de-Ba’athification took the side of the U.S. occupation, while the majority of Iraqis opposed the occupation. Some chose to be violent in their opposition, so they formed the Iraqi national resistance. Others oppose the occupation peacefully, but support the underground resistance army.

There is no sectarian war. Iraqis have lived together for centuries. The U.S. administration, by its occupation forces, tries to apply the old rotten British colonial concept of divide and conquer. It hasn’t worked for the last three years, and will not work. This strategy is failing and will never succeed in Iraq. Bush and his failing military operation in Iraq will not last.

Anonymous said...

Right-Wing Radio Host Fabricates Controversy To Attack First Muslim Congressman

Right-wing radio host Dennis Prager [falsely] claimed Keith Ellison (D-MN) “announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.” Prager claimed this “act undermines American civilization,” and compared it to being sworn in with a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

reb said...

I've let your post stand w/out comment because I've been busy not because I agree with it. I think it's really an attempt to force reality to fit ideology to call the Sunni movement in Iraq a moovement for "national liberation." I also would not call Sadr a collaborator with the Iraqi government.
I don't know how anyone can call this a "nationalist resistance movement." :

I leave the discussion with this point. Every person that has any roots in the area and any actual experience in Iraq says that what is going on there is a disaster for the Iraqis. The ONLY people I have ever heard defend the stance that we must "support the resistance" whether the ISO last year or apparently a branch of FRSO currently, has, to my mind, done so from the basis of ideological positioning rather than the evidence of what is happening.
I find those arguments to be unconvincing.
One of the better informed people to turn to, curious readers is Gilbert Achcar, who can be found here: