Iraq: The Anger of an Occupied People

by Larry Everest

Revolutionary Worker #1219, November 16, 2003, posted at

"This was a new lesson from the resistance, a lesson to the greedy aggressors. They'll never be safe until they get out of our country."

"The Americans are enemies of mankind. I am so happy. How would you feel if somebody came and occupied your country? The Americans say they are bringing us democracy, but all they want is our oil."

Iraqis outside Falluja, after the downing of a U.S. Chinook helicopter

Iraqi resistance to the brutal, unjust and imperialist U.S. occupation of Iraq has spiraled upward in recent weeks, rising from 12 attacks a day in mid-summer to 33 attacks a day recently. On October 20, CBS News reported there had been 43 attacks on U.S. forces that day alone.

Then, within two weeks, three U.S. helicopters were shot down. The downing of a Chinook helicopter outside Falluja on November 2 killed 16 U.S. troops--the single largest loss reported by U.S. forces since the start of their invasion. And meanwhile, the U.S. occupation authorities came under repeated attack inside the "Green Zone" they have created to protect themselves within Baghdad.

The Washington Post (Nov. 4) reports that the situation is "approaching war-like status" and (Nov. 8) that the "balance of power" is shifting toward the resisters in the Sunni center of Iraq. They write: "American troops patrol less frequently, townspeople openly threaten Iraqi security personnel who cooperate with U.S. forces, and the night belongs to the guerrillas."

Attacks around Kirkuk and Mosul indicate that the resistance may be spreading to northern Iraq, and tensions are reportedly growing in the Shi'a south.

Spinning the Resistance

The U.S. government has tried to spin the situation by downplaying the level and breadth of the Iraqi resistance and by branding resisters as nothing more than Saddam Hussein's "dead-enders" or "foreign terrorists."

This so-called "analysis" has no more credibility than the Bush regime's claims that Iraq possessed WMDs or had "links" to al Qaeda.

Many different reports from journalists and activists on the ground indicate that the Iraqi resistance is home-grown, diverse, and driven by the just anger of Iraqis at the horrors the U.S. has inflicted on their country. While former military and government forces are undoubtedly involved--this resistance is rooted more in the occupation present than the Ba'athist past.

Such reports describe over 40 different locally based, partisan-type organizations comprised of varying combinations of nationalists, Islamist forces, Ba'ath loyalists, former military commanders, foreign fighters, impoverished Iraqis, and no doubt other political viewpoints.

"We do not want to see our country occupied by forces clearly pursing their own interests," one resister told Britain's Guardian , "rather than being poised to return Iraq to the Iraqis."

Sources Of Iraqi Resistance

The growing Iraqi resistance is rooted in the unjust U.S. military grab for power in the Persian Gulf--Iraq has been a target for U.S. ambitions, and Iraq's people have paid a bitter price.

For starters, thousands of Iraqis were killed or wounded during the 2003 war, including many civilians. A recent report by the Project on Defense Alternatives estimates Iraq's war dead from the March 19 invasion until the April 20 capture of Baghdad at between 10,800 and 15,100, including between 3,200 and 4,300 civilians.

A second major cause of anger and resistance has been the collapse of Iraq's government, economy, and social order. The U.S. occupation authorities complain over and over that they "inherited an Iraqi infrastructure that was in shambles." They rarely mention that the cause of this mess is U.S. invasion and bombing since 1991 and 13 years of punishing military sanctions that were designed, precisely, to cripple Iraq's economy and governing structures.

The U.S. claims that things are now getting better for the Iraqi people and that a majority of them support the occupation. This too is a lie. According to an in-depth survey by Time magazine and ABC News, conditions have worsened in many ways across Iraq since the U.S. invasion.

First, the situation in much of the country is far from "normal." The U.S. troops and their Iraqi puppet police are largely holed up in a few fortified strong points. The people themselves live in the worst of all worlds: threatened by occupation troops at roadblocks, while facing the chaoic lack of securities in their neighborhoods.

By all accounts, shooting deaths in central and southern Iraq are many times higher than they were before the war," ABC reports. "And in a nation that once boasted one of the highest female literacy rates among Arab nations, with women holding top positions in several professions, violence and harassment toward Iraqi women have increased."

Only 60% of the people of Baghdad have adequate water supplies, and bad water remains the leading cause of disease among Iraqi children. Only 50% of Iraqis now have access to healthcare (compared to 80- 90% before the war), and most hospitals lack basic supplies, including antibiotics. While the flow of electricity has improved in the north and south, it has gotten worse in central Iraq. Unemployment has reached 70%, prices are skyrocketing, and there is a widening gulf between the rich and poor.

The Logic of Occupation

Another major cause of the growing Iraqi resistance is the viciousness of the U.S. occupation. The U.S. has responded to guerrilla attacks as foreign colonial occupiers repeatedly do: Unable to find or even identify the resistance forces, they increasingly rely on "collective punishment" of the people. U.S. troops have been criss-crossing central Iraq with a combination of brutal search-and- destroy missions, sweeping round-ups, house-to-house searches, and massive and often indiscriminate firepower.

As we go to press there are sketchy initial reports of massive U.S. retaliation after a Blackhawk was downed on November 7 outside Tikrit. The U.S. authorities responded with a massive show of collective punishment--aimed at the people living in that area. Fox News reported that U.S. jets screamed over the area and dropped at least three massive 500-pound bombs. ABC News said this was the first reported bombing of Iraqis in many months.

The New York Times also described how U.S. troops "cordoned off" the areas surrounding the crash and Apache attack helicopters swarmed over those surrounding communities. "At times the Apaches hovered vertically, their noses pointing straight down over Iraqi villages." Fox News added: "Backed by Bradley fighting vehicles, American troops bombarded buildings with machine guns and heavy weapons fire. `This is to remind the town that we have teeth and claws and we will use them,' said Lt. Col. Steven Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment."

The U.S. military refuses to track the numbers of Iraqis their troops have killed during the occupation. But a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled "Hearts and Minds: Post-War Civilian Casualties in Baghdad by U.S. Forces," provides a small glimpse of what is taking place on the ground. HRW found that at least 94 Iraqi civilians had been killed in questionable circumstances by U.S. forces between May 1 and October 1, and a "pattern by U.S. forces of over-aggressive tactics, indiscriminate shooting in residential areas and a quick reliance on lethal force."

Iraqi civilian deaths have often occurred during raids on homes or at U.S. roadblocks on the highways. HRW also found that U.S. soldiers were sometimes arrogant and abusive in ways considered insulting or taboo to Iraqis, such as by touching or searching women and girls, or by putting their feet on the heads of detained Iraqis.

Fred Abrahams, an HRW consultant, wrote of a typical example: "Adil abd al Karim al Kawwaz was driving home from his in-laws' house in Baghdad one night in August with his wife and four kids. It was dark, and he couldn't see the American soldiers from the 1st Armored Division operating a checkpoint with armored vehicles and heavy-caliber guns. No signs or lights were visible, and he did not understand that he was supposed to stop. So he drove a bit too close and the soldiers opened fire, killing him along with three of his children, the youngest of whom was 8 years old. Such accidents are no longer rare in Iraq. They occur at checkpoints, during raids or after roadside attacks, as edgy U.S. soldiers resort with distressing speed to lethal force."

Iraqis have also become embittered by the brutal conditions at U.S. prison camps, where some 5,500--and perhaps many more--are now being held.

One Iraqi said, "They confined us like sheep. They hit people. They humiliated people." These men said that prisoners staged protests or hunger strikes nearly every day. "Sometimes we'd fight the Americans with tent poles. The Americans would come at us behind riot shields, firing plastic bullets."

In sum, a series of sharp jolts have hit Iraqis in rapid succession: the devastating attrack by an invading superpower, the collapse of Iraq's main government and political structures, the shattering of their economy; the evaporation of basic security for the people; the collapse of health care, a humiliating foreign occupation, and the often deadly U.S. counter-insurgency operations.

It seems that the Iraqi people have been shocked--but not awed--by U.S. power. Instead many have become enraged. The conditions for a deep-rooted popular insurgency against the U.S. occupiers are building.

Preparing for Greater Atrocities

When the U.S. Chinook helicopter was shot down November 2, the U.S. media could not hide the joy and celebration among the surrounding Iraqi people. They danced and cheered over the charred wreckage--and explained their hatred for the invaders who have seized their country.

The U.S. government bragged they would have easy victory--but instead they face growing resistance, and even a possibility of defeat. They have failed to get more countries to send troops to help the U.S. occupation. And they are having great difficulty forging a new Iraqi army, police or government to serve them.

At first the Pentagon and White House insisted that everything is going well. But now, with the drumbeat of American casualties, there is open talk that both the resistance and the ugliness of the U.S. actions are likely to increase in the months ahead.

As Bush swears he will "stay the course" in Iraq, a prominent political conservative David Brooks warned ( New York Times, Nov. 4) that Bush also needed to prepare the public for "images of the brutal measures our own troops will have to adopt."

We too must "prepare the public"--to understand and oppose this mounting U.S. brutality against Iraqis. The U.S. government claims to be "liberators" in the Middle East are sounding more hollow every day. Their unjust conquest can only be enforced by brutal occupation. A just resistance is building among the people of Iraq. And all over the world, voices need to be raised demanding that U.S. forces stop their attacks on Iraq's people and leave.


Larry Everest's new book, Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda from Common Courage Press, is due out in December.