Occupation and Resistance in Iraq


Report on a meeting, 5th December, 2004 by Noel Hamel


The enormous and impressive line-up of speakers was depleted because some Iraqis who intended to travel from Iraq were prevented for lack of visas.  Not the usual high profile personalities often on the platform at such events, everyone had something very particular to contribute from personal experience and knowledge.

All the speakers were dismayed by the turn of events in Iraq and believe that the presence of US troops and influence is the cause of much of the violent dissent and chaos.  Arguments that justify US presence, on the basis that chaos would ensue if they left, fail to acknowledge the chaos which their presence generates.  Many Iraqis do not believe their presence is innocent and well-intentioned, and Negroponte’s appointment as US ambassador strengthens this view because of his notoriety for subversive action in Honduras.  Many reasons were given for invasion and the most recent, to bring democracy and freedom, lacks credibility like all the others.  Why would the US go to such trouble, expence and political cost, to benefit the lives of Iraqis?  If concern about democracy and freedom in the region were genuine, then it’s certain that elsewhere US influence could achieve far more quite easily.  Many of the Gulf states are in thrall to the US yet have appalling records on democracy, freedom and human rights which is no impediment to very close and friendly diplomatic and trading relations.  Many Iraqis on the other hand are resentful of the apparently callous disregard for Iraqi lives shown by the invaders.  Apart from the notorious events in Abu Ghraib there are daily occurrences of torture, humiliation and unnecessary harsh treatment.  British torture is presented as the work of a few Lancashire Regiment mavericks, but this is not the story that Iraqis know from daily experience.  Jack Straw, Tony Blair, and others had been informed by Anne Clewyd of mistreatment of prisoners long before the Abu Ghraib stories broke publicly, yet they has chosen to take no action.  It is unfortunate that reporting doesn’t reflect this but rather paints a picture of resistance as disparate groups of fanatical fighters and nihilistic anarchists.  The true picture is not ‘black and white’.  There is some concern that some US activity may be exacerbating existing ethnic, cultural and religious divisions.  Also the unexplained murders of academics, intellectuals and important cultural figures revives ominous memories of ‘Operation Phoenix’, a subversive programme of elimination of articulate and educated members of Vietnamese society in order to make the population more malleable.  Certainly the effects of occupation and resistance are destroying the fabric of the country, and recovery will be very problematic.

There is particular concern about the legal framework in which the occupying power is operating to the extent that the UK and the US seem to have secured complete immunity for their actions, putting themselves beyond the reach of all the norms of international law, including the flouting of all the accepted conventions of human rights.  It is certain, for example, that women have suffered serious loss of rights and liberties since invasion, and medical and education facilities have suffered serious disruption.  There is particular concern about the prospects for genuine freedom and democracy.  Increasingly anything associated with the occupiers is seen as tainted.  The authority and institutions supposed to deliver self-determination are the autocratic creation of Paul Bremner who constructed a ‘legal’ framework around them which makes reversing many aspects of his policies difficult.  There is real concern about the freedom of the press, too.

An afternoon workshop looked at the issues of the Iraqi economy and oil.  Iraq has accumulated an enormous level of international indebtedness thanks largely to wars and substantial armaments loans in the past, when Saddam was courted by Western powers to attack Iran and fundamental Islam after the deposition of the Shah (a Western place-man).  Sanctions and war reparations to Kuwait exacerbated the position.  Speakers challenged the received wisdom about the Iraq/Kuwait dispute.  After the 2003 invasion a ‘rescue’ plan was proposed which will ‘forgive’ some debt and reschedule some.  Iraqis feel it unjust to burden them with ‘odious’ debt incurred by a dictator whom Western powers courted and encouraged to incur indebtedness for weapons to fight Islam.  The rescheduled debt will require that the Iraqi administration make concessions to market-forces economics.  This will enable investors to take control of the supply of goods and services in Iraq in perpetuity.  This action alone will severely constrain the sovereignty of all future Iraqi government.  Paul Bremner arrangements include restriction on the amount available for civil service, medical and academic salaries.  These are currently severely depressed, and an improving economy and civil society will find such constraints damagingly limiting.  The citizens’ cheap fuel policy will also be curtailed to the great disadvantage of the poorest particularly.

A range of construction and oil contracts are awaiting elections.  Arrangements before elections may lack the international legitimacy that they will get from an elected government.  This may partly explain the US eagerness to have elections in January 2005.  However, the groundwork and preparations for contractual arrangements are being processed before elections as this makes the preliminary negotiations for subsequent privatisations comparatively easy and difficult to reverse. 

Adam Price MP urged that everyone lobby their MPs to support his Early Day Motion to impeach Tony Blair, as he unmistakeably did wilfully mislead both the country and parliament over the Iraq war.  The dishonesty of the Iraq war has led to a culture of lies and deceit in order to sustain the project, including a deliberate policy of ‘overlooking’ the extent of Iraqi death and suffering.  It’s a curious irony that the supposed plan to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq is closely associated with hindering and inhibiting democratic freedoms at home.  Honesty and accountability are the cornerstones of democratic government, and they have been ignored.

Everyone was further urged to join and publicise the lobby of MPs on 11th and 12th March to speak up for human rights both at home and abroad.