In what was probably the largest demonstration in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis marched in Baghdad this past Saturday to demonstrate against the US occupation. While most bourgeois news agencies were focused on the wedding of Prince Charles and what’s-her-name, The LA Times did report that some 300,000 people filled the streets of Baghdad (most other news agencies, if they reported the demonstration at all, claimed that there were “thousands”). The demonstration, organized by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr and held on the second anniversary of the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, filled the capital’s al-Fardous square with chants of “No to America,” and “No to the occupation”.
The demonstrators demanded that the US government set a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation forces, and that the US release an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Sadrists in prison, as well as demanding that the “American agent” Saddam Hussein be brought to trial as quickly as possible. Protesters and al-Sadr’s aides have said that the US is delaying the trial of Saddam in order to cover up the relationship that the US had with him in the past. The demonstration also demanded an end to the terrorist attacks that have plagued the country and called for the killing of Iraqis by Iraqis to end.
The Propaganda War
The US is desperate to clean up the image of the occupation forces in Iraq and foster the myth that they really are the liberators of Iraq. They want to put the whole messy, and certainly embarrassing business of Abu-Ghraib and the massacre of Fallujah behind them. The Washington Post recently published an article about a new “hit” Iraqi television programme called “Terrorism in the Hands of Justice” (you can see the article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26402-2005Apr4.html ). The programme is broadcast on Al-Iraqiya, a state-run network set up by the U.S. occupation authority in 2003. As the Post explained “Iraq’s hottest new television program is a reality show. But the players are not there by choice. And they don’t win big bucks, a new spouse or a dream job. Instead, all the characters on ‘Terrorism in the Hands of Justice’ are captured suspected insurgents. And for more than a month, they have been riveting viewers with tales of how they killed, kidnapped, raped or beheaded other Iraqis, usually for a few hundred dollars per victim”.
The Post then explains how the programme is structured:
“Seated before an Iraqi flag, the dejected and cowed prisoners answer questions from an off-camera inquisitor who mocks their behavior. Some sport bruised faces and black eyes. Far from appearing to be confident heroes battling U.S. occupation, they come across as gangsters.
“‘I watch the show every night, and I wait for it patiently, because it is very revealing,’ said Abdul Kareem Abdulla, 42, a Baghdad shop owner. ‘For the first time, we saw those who claim to be jihadists as simple $50 murderers who would do everything in the name of Islam. Our religion is too lofty, noble and humane to have such thugs and killers. I wish they would hang them now, and in the same place where they did their crimes. They should never be given any mercy’”.
Prisoners on the programme appear beaten and bruised, and one prisoner died in custody after his appearance on the show. The insurgents are portrayed as criminals, rapists, and Islamic fundamentalists who kill for $200 a victim. One Iraqi man on a weblog has said of the programme (which you can find here):
“Our new ‘national’ channels are a joke. One of the most amusing, in a gruesome sort of way, is Al-Iraqiya. It’s said to be American sponsored but the attitude is decidedly pro-Iran, anti-Sunni. There’s a program where they parade ‘terrorists’ on screen for us to see in an attempt to show us that our National Guard are not only good at raiding homes and harassing people in the streets. The funny thing about the terrorists is that the majority of them have “Sunni” names like Omar and Othman, etc. They admit to doing things such as having sexual intercourse in mosques and raping women and the whole show is disgusting. Iraqis don’t believe it because it’s so obviously produced to support the American definition of the Iraqi, Sunni, Islamic fanatic that it is embarrassing. Couldn’t the PSYOPS people come up with anything more subtle?”
The Washington Post even stated: “At times, the insurgents appear to be parroting packaged answers, and critics of the program say the prisoners’ stories fit well with the government’s portrait of the insurgency: that it is in large part a bunch of greedy criminals run amok, that foreigners play a big role and that funding is coming from neighboring Syria and Saudi Arabia.”
The programme is designed to show that the insurgency is not a national struggle for liberation against an imperialist occupation, but that it is the work of a small group of Islamic fundamentalists mainly from the Sunni population, who receive financing and assistance from former Baathists and foreign extremists in Syria in order to struggle against “democracy” and a “free Iraq”. While it is clear that some of the attacks on the occupation forces as well as the taking of hostages has been carried out by Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, this is however not the defining characteristic of the opposition to the occupation nor the armed insurgency. The insurgency is in fact a struggle of national liberation, made up of people from all segments of the population, and most groups and people involved in the insurgency are opposed to the terrorist and fundamentalist groups and their horrific acts.
The demonstration this past Saturday destroys the US portrait of the opposition to the occupation. The demonstration clearly highlights the widespread anger at the imperialist occupation, as well as the anger and frustration many Iraqis feel about the severe social and economic crisis. Many Iraqis are angry at high unemployment and the lack of basic services, such as electricity, water, health and education. Most Iraqis can see that the root of all their problems is the devastating war and the occupation of their country by imperialist troops – they want peace, stability, jobs and basic services. The BBC published an article on April 5 titled Iraq blighted by poor services. This article reveals the true situation of the masses, and exposes the real consequences of the war:
“Two years since the fall of Baghdad, there is deep frustration amongst Iraqis at the state of public services.
“Stagnant water lies on the street in Baghdad’s Sadr city. There are continuing power cuts in much of the country and hospitals struggle to provide adequate treatment.
“Sewage often pours untreated into rivers which many Iraqis have to drink from.
“Look around the Iraqi capital, and the most obvious change over the past two years has been the mushrooming of concrete anti-blast barriers.
“In most areas there is little visible sign of reconstruction and residents across the city have power for half the day at most.
“[...] Electricity workers recently held a demonstration to denounce violence and sabotage [...] The Americans have allocated $18.4bn dollars for reconstruction in Iraq, but Mr Misocni says more than 70% of the money his ministry was originally granted has now been reallocated to spending on defence and security.
“Iraq can’t now produce all of the drinking water it needs. ‘Our people are drinking water either directly from rivers or wells, even the so-called treated water or clean water is not actually clean,’ says Mr Misocni [of the public works ministry]. ‘It is contaminated with sewage water.’
“And that means children, in particular, are getting sick. Preventable diseases are killing people here, two years since the war.”
This situation underlines what Marxists always said, that in the final analysis, socialism is a question of bread. The new regime in Iraq cannot even provide the basic necessities of life for most Iraqis. Iraqis want to have their own government and run their own country – not to be held at gunpoint by US and UK military forces. The anger and frustration that most Iraqis feel is beginning to swell, as expressed by the mass demonstration over the weekend, and this movement will only continue to grow as the problems facing the masses go unresolved.
End the Occupation
Choosing to have the demonstration in the al-Fardous square was no accident. Following the capture of Baghdad two years ago, the US staged the toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue in the same square for international media cameras. Demonstrators on Saturday openly mocked this piece of poorly pulled-off propaganda by burning and toppling effigies of Bush, Blair and Saddam.
“‘Two years ago we had such a feeling of delight,’ said Majed al-Tarfi, a Farsi language professor at the University of Baghdad. “‘We had such great hope that the opponents of Saddam would present a strong alternative. Now we are living amid terrorism and fear of armed soldiers who do not distinguish among innocent civilians, terrorists and honest resistance fighters.’” (Kansas City Star, April 9, 2005)
The toppling of the effigies of Saddam, Bush, and Blair is significant, and shows that the Iraqi people consider that these men represent and stand for the same thing. Aside from the fact that Saddam was backed and armed by the US and the UK until the first Gulf War, Iraqis can see that the dictatorship of Saddam has been replaced by the dictatorship of the US occupation forces. How much has actually changed? Most former Baathists remain in the state bureaucracy and in important positions throughout the country. The torture and abuse handed out by Saddam’s regime is now delivered by US soldiers and the new Iraqi police forces. The social conditions in the country, devastated by 10 years of economic sanctions, are now even worse than before the war. Saddam is considered an “American agent” because they can see that there is not much difference between the Saddam regime and the US occupation. The Iraqi people can see that the forces of imperialism, and that capitalism whether it be of the Saddam or US variety, have brought them nothing but misery and suffering.
The Sadrists, who fought against US troops throughout most of last year, said that they would continue to organize street demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience against the occupation. They are hoping to build a movement of significant size and power to be able to put pressure on the newly-established Iraqi parliament to introduce a motion for a pull-out of imperialist troops.
Although they have been largely quiet since the informal truce with US forces last year, the Mahdi Army militia (Sadr’s militia) is still active and is in fact the only armed power in certain Shia areas of the country. The demonstrators on Saturday, contrary to previous protests, were not armed. Sadrist leaders say while they retain the right to take up arms against foreign troops in Iraq, the political tide is against armed opposition, with a majority of Iraq’s Shia believing an elected government will eventually be able to negotiate the withdrawal of the occupier.
“‘We support all forms of resistance, political or military... but we take into account what is appropriate at different stages,’ said Jalil al-Shimmari, spokesman for the Sadrist political office, and an organiser of Saturday’s demonstration”. (Financial Times, April 10, 2005)
Whether the present tactics of the Sadrists will work out the way they hope they will is another matter. They have widespread support amongst the urban poor in Baghdad, and control entire areas of the city. There were also some two-dozen National Assembly members present at the rally. However, the largest bloc in the new Iraqi parliament, the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, initially made calls for a withdrawal timetable of occupation forces in its electoral platform, although it has since dropped this demand. Furthermore Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s prime minister-designate and UIA member said last week that Iraq still required the presence of multinational forces. This is obviously due to pressure from the US and the UK, who continue to say, “Our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself”.
The new Iraqi “government” is more than aware that it relies on the support of the occupation forces. No amount of pressure from Sadr’s social movement will convince the government to ask its only means of defence and source of power to leave the country. Nearly two and a half months after the “elections”, the new National Assembly has just chosen a president, and a prime minister. But the intrigues of the various parties and national groups have delayed the formation of a cabinet. In the absence of any actual governing, or means of enforcing its laws, the government depends on the power of the US military forces. A new constitution is to be drafted by August, but it seems that all the backroom deal making and wrangling may make that impossible. There are also massive hurdles to overcome in writing the constitution. There are various disputes and battles between Islamists and secularists, as well as disagreements between the various national and ethnic groups.
Rumsfeld himself was in Iraq on April 12 and pressed the government to avoid delays in writing the constitution and defeating the insurgency. He also urged them against corruption and incompetence. Why? Because the imperialists can see that a layer of the Iraqi masses look to the government with hope. They have adopted a “wait and see” attitude to government, and hope that it will fulfil their aspirations for genuine democracy and improvements in their lives. If the government descends into sectarian and bureaucratic wrangling and infighting, and its corruption becomes commonplace and well known, then the people will turn from the government and look to other forces to deliver what they want. This will inevitably mean the strengthening of the insurgency and weakening of the government, and drag the US further and further into the quagmire.
Muqtada al-Sadr is in fact betraying his own base of support. Sadr’s movement began as a social welfare movement centred around the mosques in the poorest areas of Baghdad and elsewhere. With the occupation of the country he then moved to a position of armed struggle against what he himself called a sham government, a puppet government that was in reality the stooge of the US occupation forces. Now he wants to build a peaceful movement, capable of putting pressure on the government to negotiate with the imperialists. This is because he wants to transform his movement into a political party and engage in “dialogue” with the government. He talks about building stability in Iraq and strengthening the government – but only to create the conditions under which he can build himself a position of power based on a large movement of the poor and downtrodden. The anger and frustration of the masses will be used to launch Sadr’s thrust for power and “legitimacy”. Whereas in the past he used every opportunity to expose the government for being under the thumb of the imperialists, he is now actively building illusions in the “government” and in “democracy” in Iraq.
In the end, the hopes of the majority of Iraq’s Shia population that the “elected government” will be able to negotiate the withdrawal of occupation troops will be smashed. Their hopes for stability and an improvement in their living conditions will not come to fruition. The “elected government” is extremely weak, and entirely dependent on the occupation forces. With the increasing polarization of Iraqi society and increased pressure for the removal of the imperialist troops the government will come under enormous pressure from all sides. They will come under intense pressure from the armed resistance and from the popular movement against the occupation to call for the withdrawal of US and UK forces. Being weak, and unable to enforce their rule and their laws, and unable to resist the growing movements, both armed and unarmed, the “elected government” will be driven further into the open arms of the forces of imperialism. They will be forced to rely more and more on the US military for support – even to attempt to crush a mass opposition movement if need be. Even at this demonstration on Saturday, US forces “monitored” the protest from nearby rooftops – ready to shoot if things got out of hand. More and more of this will be seen in the future, and as the government loses more and more support from the population it will be forced to quell demonstrations.
The government will be exposed as a sham and the “democracy” of Iraq will be exposed as a farce, behind which lies the forces of imperialism. This will only increase the anger and frustration of the Iraqi masses, and drive them further into open opposition against the so-called government and the forces of imperialism. The Iraqi workers cannot rely on the government to negotiate anything for them in their name. They can only rely on their own forces and their organizations. The role of the government will create a growing, and increasingly radical opposition movement, which will inevitably call for the overthrow of the “government” and for the establishment of a genuine Iraqi government free from the control of the occupation forces.
There is huge potential for a revolutionary movement to be built in Iraq. A revolutionary socialist movement of the working class could unite the resistance movement, lead to the overthrow of the puppet regime, rid the country of the occupation forces and establish a regime of genuine democracy and socialism. Unfortunately, most of the Iraqi labour leaders and the Iraqi Communist Party are collaborating with the government and the imperialists. The other communist and socialist organizations are not leading the resistance movement either. The political vacuum has been filled by Islamic clerics and others, who are now actively betraying the movement and leading it down safe routes – building illusions in the so-called “elected democratic government” and imperialism. The anger of the masses, as expressed this past Saturday will continue to grow and develop. The masses are yearning for change and an improvement in their lives, and by giving a militant socialist and working class perspective the Iraqi Communists could transform the entire situation and lead a united resistance movement to the occupation. A revolutionary struggle against imperialism and capitalism in Iraq would become a point of reference and inspiration for workers of the entire region and the whole world.
April 12, 2005
- The War in Iraq – Two years on By Rob Lyon (March 18, 2005)
- Iraqi elections – After the media hype latest figures show turnout was very low By Yossi Schwartz. (February 8, 2005)
- Iraqi elections: “The calm before the storm” By Alan Woods (January 31, 2005)
- Iraqi Elections: a cynical deception By Alan Woods (January 7, 2005)
- The onslaught in Fallujah: Shooting at a fly that has landed on a horse’s head By Maarten Vanheuverswyn (November 12, 2004)
- Fallujah, the sequel: Preparing for Butchery By Maarten Vanheuverswyn (November 8, 2004)
- Iraq: Building a new society? By Yossi Schwartz (November 8, 2004)
- The Saga of the Weapons of Mass Destruction – “And when they got there the cupboard was bare” By Maarten Vanheuverswyn. (October 11, 2004)
- After the compromise at Najaf – what future for the Iraqi resistance movement? By Fred Weston (August 27, 2004)
- What role for the Iraqi working class in the resistance movement? By Yossi Schwartz (August 22, 2004)
- The war in Iraq and the impending collapse of the Saudi Arabian monarchy By Greg Oxley and Layla Al Koureychi (July 15, 2004)
- The farce of the Iraqi “handover” By Alan Woods (June 28, 2004)